ISBN: 978-0-300-25936-0

John Mueller

Ohio State University & Cato Institute (US)

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Economic warfare is scarcely a new phenomenon – traditionally, sieges have often far outnumbered battles. However, Mulder focuses in this excellent and well-researched book on modern efforts from 1919 to 1945 to fashion economic sanctions as an instrument – or weapon – to enforce international order. As Woodrow Wilson put it shortly after the First World War, it is 'a terrible remedy' but one 'that does not cost a single life outside the nation boycotted' and, due to international economic interdependence, it brings 'a pressure on that country' which 'no modern nation could resist.' Mulder agrees that the remedy can be 'terrible,' pointing out that economic sanctions frequently bring about more death and destruction than other weapons of warfare. At the same time, their effects can be 'remarkably difficult to render visible and condemn,' making the 'remedy', as one commentor put it in 1920, 'so infernally convenient to use that it naturally commends itself to people who sit in offices.' And, most importantly, notes Mulder, sanctions have rarely resulted in substantial policy changes – contrary to Wilson's expectations, sanctioned countries have often been able to 'resist'. For the most part, populations may over time absorb or work around sanctions which often inflict pain only gradually, and the prospect of sanctions has frequently caused their leaders to back away from the mutually beneficial benefits of international trade to pursue autarky. In a short concluding chapter, Mulder brings his commentary up to date arguing that, while the application of economic sanctions has escalated since 1945, the weapon's inadequacy at affecting policy remains.