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Do Economic Sanctions Destabilize Country Leaders?


  • The author thanks Stephen Krasner, James Fearon, Hein Goemans, Michael Tomz, Moonhawk Kim, Nahomi Ichino, Netty Praditsarn, participants at an International Policy Studies seminars (Feb. 18, 2003) and the Comparative Politics Workshop (March 3, 2003) at Stanford University, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Any remaining errors and omissions are the author's responsibility alone. The author thanks the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University for support in 2003–2004. Replication data and case studies are available online from

Nikolay Marinov is assistant professor, Yale University, New Haven, CT (


Do economic sanctions destabilize the governments they target? A form of foreign pressure, sanctions are typically meant to alter the policies of other countries. There is much pessimism on whether they ever work. This article shows that economic pressure works in at least one respect: it destabilizes the leaders it targets. I present a theoretical argument that explains why destabilization is a necessary condition for successful coercion. I find evidence that pressure destabilizes in a large panel of cross-country time-series data. The destabilization finding indicates that sanctions may be more effective at altering policies than we think. I conclude by noting that greater optimism regarding the effectiveness of sanctions should be balanced by a careful consideration of the policy's real and sizeable costs for those caught in the middle.