Sanctions bring benefits one time in three

That’s the message from an interesting research nugget quoted by the Financial Times:

A careful study by the Peterson Institute of 115 uses of economic sanctions by major countries between 1950 and 1990 concluded that, in about a third of cases, they helped those wielding them achieve their goals. The research shows they were most likely to be successful when this objective was modest and clear, the target was in a weakened position, economic links were significant, sanctions were heavy, and the duration was limited.

Helping in only one in three cases leaves an awful lot of misery and horror unaffected, though given how often they are caused by complex situations lacking easy answers, to have as relatively simple a tool as sanctions help out as often as one in three times still makes for a remarkably large amount of good that can be done.

The prompt for the FT to quote this research was the news that, finally, the US is imposing sanctions against Syria, as the (likely) death toll in that country topped 1,000 in the face of continuing protests against the country’s dictatorial rulers.

There’s a macabre and harsh light which death totals throw on foreign policy concerns: in some countries deaths can be numbered in the tens to get international attention and action; in some it has to reach the hundreds; in others the thousands; and in an appalling few cases it’s only when the death toll hits the tens of thousands that the international community does more than issue the occasional note of regret.

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