Sanctions, Signals, and Militarized Conflict


  • The authors would like to thank Chris Butler, Indra de Soysa, Alfred Cooper Drury, Erik Gartzke, Scott Gates, Kristian Gleditsch, Havard Hegre, Michael Huelshoff, Sara Mitchell, Brandon Prins, Bill Reed, Mark Souva, and Havard Strand for helpful comments and suggestions. Bradley Podliska provided invaluable research assistance. David Lektzian would also like to thank the Department of Political Science at Texas A&M University for providing office space and resources to work on this project while he was displaced from New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina.

David J. Lektzian is assistant professor of political science, University of New Orleans, 323 Liberal Arts Building, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans, LA 70148 ( Christopher M. Sprecher is assistant professor of political science, 2104 Allen Building, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843–4348 (


Economic sanctions are frequently used as a tool of foreign policy, described by some as falling between diplomacy and military force. An important question regarding the use of sanctions is whether they can function as an alternative to military force by demonstrating the sender's resolve and making military force unnecessary, or if their use tends to result in an increased probability that military force will be used. Based on a theory of sanctions as costly signals, the authors develop and test hypotheses regarding the relationship between sanctions and military force. The results show that after a sanction occurs, there is a significantly increased probability of a use of military force. Democracies, because of their propensity to tie their hands with audience costs, while at the same time facing domestic pressure to devise sanctions to be costless to the sender, are highly likely to be involved in a militarized dispute after using sanctions.