Chapter 9 Sanctions, Aid, and Confict (Week 10)

9.1 Discussion questions

  • Early and Jadoon (2019): What is the main argument of this paper? Is it convincing? What are the policy implications?

  • Lektzian and Sprecher (2007): Do sanctions increase the risk of militarized conflict? What argument and evidence do the authors offer? Are they convincing?

EU sanctions Russian ‘Wagner’ mercenary group over military threat to Ukraine | DW News

9.2 Sanctions and foreign aid

Early and Jadoon (2019) focus on an interesting intersection between sanctions and foreign aid. They argue that aid sanctions are less costly for sender states and can increase the credibility of sanctions threats. Specifically,

“Compared to imposing trade, investment, or financial sanctions, cutting foreign aid saves sender governments money and generates less political resentment amongst sender states’ constituents. Sender states that give substantial aid to the targets of their sanctions threats thus have enhanced credibility in conveying their willingness to follow through with imposing costly sanctions” (p.351).

They hence expect aid sanctions to be more effective at the threat stage and that senders are more likely to follow through the threats during the imposition stage. That said, it is not very clear why the aid sanctions threats are necessarily more credible. For instance, why can’t donor countries bluff and demand more concession given their leverage? And if they can, why is it more credible (if there is a higher likelihood of bluffing)? For a study that argues from asymmetric costs on elites, see here: Do sanction types affect the duration of economic sanctions? The case of foreign aid.

Empirically, there could be different concerns. For example, why is it justified to exclude military aid? Doesn’t it make more sense to just exclude humanitarian aid and include all the other types? Also, why not weight the U.S. by a target’s economy or the total aid it receives?

9.3 Do sanctions increase the risk of conflict?

Lektzian and Sprecher (2007) focus on the informational role of sanctions. They argue that sanctions typically will not be viewed by targets as being credible because the economic costs the sender states are low (or even costless as they allude to in the paper). It should be noted that this aligns with later studies that argue the informational value of sanctions are very limited since it is often in sender states’ best interest to impose asymmetric costs (Dafoe et al. 2014, Whang et al. 2013). Peterson & Drury (2011) extend the signaling logic in a different manner and argue that when states are sanctioned, third party states (not the senders) are also more likely to initiate conflict toward them. This is because sanctions send out strong signals of diplomatic condemnation while also making the targets economically weaker and hence more attractive targets of violence.

That said, McCormack & Pascoe (2017) offer a very different perspective. They argue sanctions (when they are moderately destructive) may be used to smooth adverse power shift which could otherwise lead to armed conflict. Using the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014 as an example, they suggest “Sanctions worked in this instance not by forcing a Russian surrender of Crimea or Donbass but by preventing a Russian seizure of Kiev” (p.1712). They stress that “sanctions have likely prevented at a minimum further Russian escalation in Ukraine and at a maximum Western military mobilization in response to this escalation” (p.1729).

It should be noted that there is an important caveat in their theory. When sanctions are enormously destructive, they may reverse the commitment problem. Since the costs are so high, senders also benefit substantially from a much weaker military power of the adversary. As such, they cannot credibly promise not to deploy (or lift) sanctions. This in turn incentivizes the target to initiate conflict. Similar arguments have also been put forth by Monteiro & Debs (2020).

They therefore argue “while US and European policy makers may do well to impose sanctions on Russia, they should be careful not to design them too stringently. When sanctions bind too tightly, they may cause, rather than help avoid, conflict. In fact, the global shock to oil prices that helped to collapse the ruble in late 2014 may augur for a weakening of sanctions lest the cumulative effect of both sanctions and devalued natural resource exports point the way forward for further Russian belligerence” (p.1729).