In This Review

The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War
The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War
By Nicholas Mulder
Yale University Press, 2022, 448 pp

For those who see economic sanctions as a relatively mild way of expressing displeasure at a country’s behavior, this book, charting how they first emerged as a potential coercive instrument during the first decades of the twentieth century, will come as something of a revelation. In an original and persuasive analysis, Mulder shows how isolating aggressors from global commerce and finance was seen as an alternative to war that worked precisely because of the pain it imposed on the target society. From the very beginning, it was civilians who suffered the most. Nevertheless, the League of Nations embraced sanctions and established an elaborate legal and bureaucratic apparatus to enforce them. Mulder argues that instead of keeping the peace, this form of economic warfare aggravated the tensions of the 1930s, encouraging austerity and autarky and restraining smaller states but backfiring against the larger authoritarian ones, such as Italy.