The Humanitarian Consequences of Economic Sanctions

Led by David Lektzian

Jan 2003 – Dec 2004

The traditional logic underlying most cases of sanctions has tended to view the imposition of high economic costs as the means necessary for achieving political success. This project challenges that conventional wisdom by presenting ethical and practical problems with the logic behind the traditional model of sanctions.

In 2003 CSCWand the International Department of the Norwegian Red Crossorganized a public forum exploring the humanitarian consequences of economic sanctions, particularly in light of recent developments in Iraq.

The main output of this project is a report authored by David Lektzian and entitled “Making Sanctions Smarter: Are Humanitarian Costs an Essential Element in the Success of Sanctions?“. The report was presented at the August 2003 Humanitarian Forum on Economic Sanctions at the Norwegian Red Cross headquarters in Oslo to an audience of scholars, political leaders and practitioners. The full report is available in electronic format here, or may be ordered in hard-copy by contacting PRIO’s Information Department.

Report abstract:

After laying out the theoretical arguments, hypotheses derived from the traditional model, and a smart model of sanctions, are tested empirically. The empirical analysis combines a quantitative analysis of 104 pre-1990 sanctions cases with a summary of detailed case studies of 12 UN sanctions primarily drawn from the post-1990 period. The major conclusion drawn from the empirical analysis is that economic sanctions are not about economics. They are about politics. Imposing high degrees of economic hardship – and the humanitarian costs that follow – not only introduces serious ethical concerns, but high cost sanctions are also no more likely to be successful than sanctions that impose lower costs.

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