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The effectiveness of UN and EU sanctions: lessons for the twenty-first century

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Abstract

A fractious UN Security Council has contributed to the decline in effectiveness of a number of UN sanctions adopted in recent years. Yet they remain a tool of the Council, for example with regard to Libya in 2011. The challenge is to understand how UN, country (US) and regional sanctions (EU, AU, Arab League) can be meaningful in such a climate. The four books reviewed make various suggestions, from clarity of mandate to better evaluating impact. Mikael Eriksson's Targeting peace seeks to evaluate the complexity of the sanctions policy process. He argues that effectiveness comes partly from understanding politics (episodes of sanctions), but also from institutional reform—‘black box’ processes, as he calls them. Sanctions are more successful as part of a wider package. Clara Portela in European Union sanctions and foreign policy examines the use of sanctions as a political tool, including the suspension of development aid and the withdrawal of trade privileges. She shows how the EU plays an important role in signalling and constraining when UN sanctions are weak. For example, informal measures like the 2003 EU decision to invite only dissidents to national day receptions in Havanna resulted in the release of detainees that it had aimed for. The high rate of success of development aid cut-off stands in sharp contrast with EU Common Foreign and Security Policy sanctions. The unintended consequence of good intentions is also highlighted by both Portela and Eriksson—Zimbabwe in particular but also Côte d'Ivoire and Iran pose similar challenges. The imposition of EU or UN sanctions is easier than reaching consensus to lift them, although events in Burma (Myanmar) in 2012 have resulted in smooth suspensions of most US and EU sanctions. All four books show that targeted sanctions cannot be seen as stand-alone measures, nor assessed in isolation. Sanctions are multi-faceted and require detailed assessment of political context, episode and institutional process.

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