Embargoes and Sanctions

views updated

Embargoes and Sanctions

Jerald A. Combs

For most of America's history, the word "embargo" was used to refer specifically to a prohibition on the departure of ships or exports from a nation's own ports, whereas the words "boycott" and "nonimportation" were used to describe prohibitions of imports or ship entries, and "nonintercourse" was used to describe a total prohibition of trade with a nation. But the word "embargo" also was used generically to refer to all stoppages of trade.

Since World War II, the growth of modern economic institutions and relations has afforded governments, especially rich and powerful ones like that of the United States, an arsenal of commercial weapons extending far beyond an outright stoppage of trade, including denial of aid and loans, commodity dumping, import and export limitations, revocation of most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status, and freezing assets. As those means increased, the word "embargo" seemed less applicable to the wide range of economic coercive measures that the United States, the United Nations, and other entities were using to accomplish noneconomic goals. The preferred term now is "sanctions." In eighteenth-century Europe, an embargo was generally a prelude to a formal declaration of war. A civil embargo prohibited a nation's own ships from leaving port; a hostile embargo affected all ships in the port, foreign or domestic. Neutral ships caught in the embargo might even be forced into the service of the belligerent nation. The right to do this was called the power of angary. By imposing an embargo before declaring war, a nation could keep friendly ships from falling into the hands of the enemy and hold enemy ships hostage for future contingencies.

European powers rarely resorted to an embargo as a weapon in itself rather than as a prelude to war, although there were two exceptions to this in the sixteenth century: a French grain embargo against Spain and a threatened Turkish wheat embargo against Venice. In most cases, European nations had little incentive to consider a broader use of embargoes because geographical proximity made conventional military attacks easy and effective. Besides, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries constituted the age of mercantilism, in which people believed that national power depended upon exports exceeding imports. Thus, most diplomats expected an embargo of long duration to hurt the embargoing nation more than its enemy. An extreme example of this philosophy was Great Britain's famous blockade of Napoleonic France, which was not designed to starve France but to compel it to accept British imports or receive no trade at all.


The United States was the first modern nation to make significant use of the embargo as a substitute for, rather than a prelude to, war. Being three thousand miles from the centers of European power, the United States was not in imminent danger of invasion if it resorted to economic warfare, and for most of its early history, the United States had a small army and only a moderate-sized navy. America also had been a colony whose major physical ties to the mother country had been those of trade. Since the American colonies were of value to England primarily as economic entities that provided between a third and a sixth of the entire trade of the empire, it stood to reason that the colonists would think first of commercial measures if they were seeking to coerce the mother country. They were convinced especially that the West Indies were dependent upon imports of American food and lumber for survival. They reasoned, then, that an embargo would be a formidable weapon against any nation with colonies in those islands.

But Americans were reluctant to resort to a complete embargo. They had economic interests and mercantilist ideas of their own that militated against such a measure. In the decade preceding the American Revolution, the colonists wielded economic weapons against many of Britain's unpopular measures, but in each case the chosen weapon was a boycott rather than an embargo. In fact, when George Mason proposed that Virginia embargo certain exports to protest the Townshend Acts of 1767, his fellow members of the Virginia legislature specifically rejected the idea, adopting nonimportation and nonconsumption resolutions instead. Similarly, the Continental Congress, meeting in 1774 to respond to the Coercive Acts, quickly adopted nonimportation. But the Virginia delegation insisted that any embargo be delayed until September 1775, by which time the Virginia planters could sell off their tobacco crop. Congress agreed. Then, when actual warfare broke out in April, the members moved immediately to forbid all exports without congressional permission. The embargo was soon lifted when Congress found that it was hurting America more than Britain. After a lengthy debate, America's ports were thrown open to all nations except Britain, and Congress was soon begging the French for naval help to get American ships out of their home ports.

Despite this failure, most members of Congress were still convinced that the United States could wield economic weapons effectively. They remembered that the British had repealed the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts at least partly in response to boycotts, and they were convinced that, during and after the war, foreign nations would pay a high price to divert American trade from Britain to themselves. When Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin as minister to France, it instructed him and his colleagues to offer only American trade as bait for France to enter the war as an ally of the United States. Although quickly enough disabused of the hope that France would accept so little for so much, Americans continued to believe that once the war was over, European powers would scramble over one another to offer concessions for access to American markets and goods. But when peace was restored, Europeans returned to their mercantilist systems and closed the United States out of most colonial markets. So, once again Americans contemplated commercial retaliation.

Because the Articles of Confederation left trade regulation in the hands of the individual states, it was found impossible to coordinate any retaliatory policy. The Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia met in part to correct the situation. But southerners were fearful that the commercial Northeast, using its greater population for voting advantage in Congress, would wield the weapon of commerce too freely. The South demanded that any navigation law should require a two-thirds vote of each house for passage. Ultimately, the convention reached a compromise. The Constitution would permit the federal government to levy taxes on imports; taxes on exports would be constitutionally prohibited. Exports could be embargoed, but they could not be taxed.

Despite this evidence of southern opposition to export taxes, several southern leaders still believed devoutly that economic sanctions could be America's primary diplomatic weapon. The leaders in this movement were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. When the first Congress met after ratification of the Constitution in 1789, Madison used his position as a leader of the House of Representatives to begin a campaign for a broad use of commercial weapons that would last for more than twenty years. Angry at Britain for closing American ships out of the British West Indies and for refusing to sign a trade treaty with the United States, Madison told Congress that America could force Britain into a more amenable posture by threatening to divert American trade from Britain to France. He did not propose anything so drastic as an embargo at this point; he merely called for higher duties on imports from unfriendly nations than from friendly nations. The shipping interests and their congressional representatives had been strong supporters of commercial retaliation against Britain during the hard times of the Confederation period, but now, in a time of rising prosperity, they changed their minds. Led by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, they defeated Madison's proposals in session after session. Hamilton and his supporters thought British trade too valuable to the United States to risk using it as a diplomatic weapon, and they feared that British retaliation would hurt America far more than America could hurt Britain.

When war broke out between Great Britain and revolutionary France in 1793, Madison and Jefferson saw a new chance for the use of economic sanctions, and introduced discriminatory duties against England in the House. Hamilton and his followers in Congress rallied against the proposals, with Fisher Ames of Massachusetts complaining that "Madison & Co. now avow that we will make war, not for our commerce, but with it; not to make our commerce better, but to make it nothing, in order to reach the tender sides of our enemy, which are not to be wounded in any other way." Ames and his fellow Federalists argued for military preparedness and negotiation rather than commercial retaliation. They succeeded until early 1794 in putting off Madison's proposals, but when the British suddenly swooped down on American ships trading in the French West Indies and captured more than 250 of them, Madison and the Republicans introduced even more stringent measures, such as sequestering British debts and stopping all trade with England.

Compelled by the public's outrage to do something, the Federalists agreed on a short-term general embargo as the least harmful alternative. By embargoing all ships, foreign and domestic, in American harbors, the measure would ostensibly affect all nations alike, thus avoiding a direct challenge to Great Britain. It also could be defended as a traditional precautionary step in case of war, and the Federalists could deny that it had anything to do with the Republican campaign for commercial coercion. Thus, with mixed motives, Congress passed a joint resolution in March 1794, laying a hostile embargo for thirty days. This was later extended for another month, and President Washington was empowered to resume the embargo if the public safety required it.

The Federalists then resumed their crusade to strengthen the army and navy and thwart the rest of the Republican program for commercial retaliation against Britain. They sidetracked the bill for sequestering British debts, and Vice President John Adams cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate against a total prohibition of British trade, imports as well as exports, which had passed the House. Meanwhile, the Federalists persuaded Washington to send John Jay to England as a special envoy to negotiate with the British and head off the war crisis. When Jay returned with a treaty promising not to interfere in any way with Anglo-American trade in exchange for a minimum of British concessions, the Republicans cried that using America's commercial weapons would have been far more effective than exchanging them for so little. After a bitter battle, the Federalists got the treaty ratified by the narrowest of margins in 1796. On the heels of that victory, they then elected John Adams to the presidency over his Republican rival, Thomas Jefferson.

Adams, however, found the French as bitter about Jay's Treaty as the Republicans. The French counted on Americans as carriers of their commerce because the British had swept the seas clear of most French ships. The Americans, by compromising with the British rather than fighting for America's neutral rights, hurt French trade as badly as their own. The French responded by capturing American ships, claiming the right to do to the Americans whatever the Americans allowed the British to do to them. The Federalists and Adams were less reluctant to oppose the French revolutionaries than they had been to resist the British, but they used the same techniques they had used in the Jay's Treaty crisis: military preparations and negotiation. Their only concession to Republican theories of commercial retaliation was an embargo on French trade passed in July 1798, after negotiations had broken down over the XYZ affair. Even this was clearly a precautionary war measure rather than a substitute for a military response. Ultimately, Adams made peace with France, splitting the Federalist Party and enabling Jefferson to defeat him for the presidency in 1800. The embargo would soon receive its supreme test as a substitute for war.


The Treaty of Amiens (1802) brought a temporary peace to Europe, which allowed President Jefferson to concentrate on domestic programs and to purchase the Louisiana Territory. Then, the Napoleonic Wars resumed, and Jefferson found himself in the same predicament his predecessors had faced. Once again the belligerents interfered with American trade and captured American ships. In the early years of the wars, British offenses were more numerous and blatant than those of the French, often taking place within sight of the American coast and involving the impressment of American seamen and the raiding of U.S. commerce. Jefferson began his program of retaliation with the Nonimportation Act of 1806, barring certain British imports. It was more a gesture to demonstrate American determination on the eve of negotiations than an all-out attempt to coerce Britain, and the Republican negotiators, James Monroe and William Pinckney, did no better than their Federalist predecessor, John Jay. Jefferson and his secretary of state, Madison, rejected the treaty their negotiators sent back from Britain because it failed to prohibit impressment. The envoys were instructed to renegotiate the treaty, eliminating the excessive appeasement of Britain. Such a task, Monroe and Pinckney realized, was hopeless. Meanwhile, another event drove Jefferson and Madison toward stronger measures. On 22 June 1807, a British vessel, the HMS Leopard, fired on an unsuspecting U.S. naval ship, the USS Chesapeake. The British attackers then mustered the crew of the Chesapeake and removed four men who were alleged to be British deserters. This violation of American sovereignty brought a loud outcry even from many Federalists, and Jefferson could easily have had a declaration of war. He delayed six months, until he received news of a British order in council barring all nations from trading with any part of Europe except the Baltic area. At the same time, he learned that France had begun capturing American ships in enforcing Napoleon's Berlin Decree. Jefferson then called upon Congress not for war but for an embargo. He and his followers in Congress defended the move on two separate grounds. On the one hand, it would be a proper precautionary move in case of war; on the other, it might in itself coerce Great Britain. Thus, he appealed to two very different groups. Those who wanted war should have been put on their guard by the fact that the administration secured a rejection of the original plan to embargo foreign as well as domestic ships, and specifically refused to place a time limit on the measure. But the two disparate groups were united for the time being by the ambiguity of the measure. The Senate passed the Embargo Act in a single day in December by a vote of 22 to 6; a few days later the House did the same by a two-to-one margin.

As the months wore on, America's ardor for war cooled. Jefferson was soon left with no alternatives but to continue the embargo as the sole coercive weapon or to abandon the measure entirely, in a humiliating retreat. He decided to continue the embargo. But, as he introduced supplementary measures designed to close loopholes in the law, the Federalists leaped to the attack. Between the embargo and the supplementary laws there was no connection, declared Barent Gardenier, representative from New York. One was a prelude to war, preventing ships from going out and being captured; the other, a measure of coercion in itself. Gardenier and his fellow Federalists insisted that only French influence could inspire so foolish and wicked a measure as a permanent embargo. Jefferson was strong enough in Congress to override these objections and force through stringent enforcement acts, including elaborate bonding procedures, precautionary seizures, and general search warrants. But the unpopularity of the embargo, especially in New England, led to widespread defiance, smuggling, and criticism. As a result, the Federalists' electoral vote in 1808 was triple that of 1804, and their share of the House of Representatives was doubled.

The embargo was no more successful abroad than it was popular at home. France, of course, was unaffected by the embargo, since its trade had already been substantially cut off by the British blockade. British trade was affected. The embargo substantially reduced American exports to Britain, and the Nonimportation Act of 1806, which unlike the embargo was directed explicitly at Great Britain, reduced British exports to the United States. This affected Britain's foreign exchange, and gold began leaving the country. The price of gold rose from 8 shillings per ounce in 1807 to 110 shillings per ounce in 1813, embarrassing the Treasury and precipitating discontent over wages and prices. In most other areas, the Embargo Act and the Nonimportation Act did not wound Britain severely. The stoppage of America's cotton exports was actually welcomed by many British merchants, who had warehouses so full they had been worried about a glut. It did harm many workers in the textile industry, setting off a riot of weavers in Yorkshire; but they were not people with much political leverage.

Meanwhile, the revolutions in Spain and the Spanish colonies in Latin America opened new markets and sources of supply for Britain, which helped compensate for the loss of trade with the United States. The Nonimportation Act of 1806 was no more effective than the embargo, since it exempted cheap textiles and manufactured goods, those things the United States needed most from Britain but also the goods Britain most needed to export. The sight of British ships arriving in American ports with these goods galled the American merchants, whose own ships were rotting at the wharves. They were not much consoled that the embargo forced British vessels to leave in ballast. In the West Indies, too, the embargo failed. It hurt the French West Indies more than the British because the British had ships to supply their islands, while the French did not.

As the failure of the embargo abroad became apparent and disaffection at home continued to rise, the Republicans had to retreat. During Jefferson's lame duck period, he abandoned his direction of Congress, which promptly replaced the Nonimportation Act and the Embargo Act with the Nonintercourse Act of 1809. This act reopened trade with all nations except Britain, France, and their dependencies. But the purposeful vagueness as to just which nations would be considered British or French dependencies, and the lack of a navy to enforce these regulations outside U.S. territorial waters, made the new law an invitation to smuggling. It, too, was soon abandoned and was replaced by Macon's Bill Number Two (1810), throwing trade open to all nations with the promise that the United States would cut off trade with the enemy of any nation that would respect America's neutral rights. When Napoleon promised to respect those rights, Madison, Jefferson's successor, cut off trade with Britain, despite the fact that Napoleon never actually lived up to his promises. When economic weapons again failed to coerce Britain, Madison recommended, and Congress declared, war. Actually, Britain had finally abandoned some of its orders in council before the American declaration. But news of the repeal failed to reach the United States before Congress voted. When the news did arrive, Madison refused to consider peace unless impressment also was eliminated. So the war went on.

Ironically, two months before the United States declared war, Congress had laid yet another embargo on Great Britain. It was specifically a measure to prepare for war, and it expired shortly after the war began. But Madison was not satisfied. He pushed another embargo through Congress in 1813. This had little effect on the southern states because the British were already blockading them; but in New England, which the British left unblockaded as a mark of favor to the section most opposed to the war, the embargo hit hard, increasing discontent and leading to threats of secession. Madison and his followers refused to admit the uselessness of the measure until the defeat of Napoleon in 1814 opened the markets of Europe to the British and destroyed what little leverage the embargo had.

In the euphoria of what Americans considered a victorious and glorious defense against Britain in the War of 1812, the American people nearly forgot the humiliations they had suffered in the commercial warfare period and the early fighting. Republican partisans cast the blame for the failure of the embargo on the Federalists and the New Englanders who had defied the law, saying that only such subversion prevented the measure from coercing Britain. But this rhetoric did not erase America's bitter memories of its attempts at economic sanctions, and it would be many years before the United States tried them again.


For decades after the War of 1812, peace in Europe gave the United States a chance to expend its diplomatic energies on westward expansion, where it did not need economic weapons. Population pressure and diplomatic maneuvering were often adequate, and where they failed, outright military action was possible because these areas were physically contiguous. Not until the Civil War was the weapon of economic sanctions once again taken up, this time by the Confederacy. The South was convinced that "cotton was king" and essential to both British and French industry. After the North instituted a blockade of the entire Confederacy, the South decided to enhance that blockade by embargoing exports of cotton. The Confederacy urged southerners not to plant cotton until the war was over, and they burned more than two and a half million bales. Unfortunately for the South, the bumper crop shipped in 1860 had already given Great Britain an oversupply of cotton, and cotton factors actually welcomed the shortage as a chance to reduce their supplies. Shortages did begin to occur by 1862. Four hundred thousand workers lost their jobs. Many of these workers advocated British intervention on behalf of the South to restore the cotton supplies; but their political impotence, the increasing supplies of cotton from Egypt, and the growing realization that the South would lose the war doomed their efforts. As the war went on, even southerners found the embargo too painful, and they cooperated in running more than a million and a half bales of cotton through the northern blockade. Once again an economic sanction had proved to be a disastrous failure.


From the Civil War until after the United States emerged from World War II as the most powerful economy in the world, America used economic sanctions more sparingly. Gone was the confidence that economic sanctions could substantially affect a powerful enemy. In this period, sanctions were used more as a gesture than as a weapon. They might be used to indicate moral disapproval or to keep the United States out of foreign wars. They might be used as a warning of firmer measures to come, or as a futile substitute for war when armed force was impolitic. But Americans no longer regarded economic sanctions as an extraordinarily potent weapon in their foreign policy armory.

In 1898, Congress passed a joint resolution granting the president authority to bar the export of coal or war matériel from American seaports during the Spanish-American War. This embargo was merely an adjunct to war, not an important weapon in itself. President Theodore Roosevelt stretched the authority of this law in 1905 to keep weapons from falling into the hands of revolutionaries in the Dominican Republic, where the United States had taken control of the customs. In 1912, when the government of Francisco I. Madero protested American shipments of arms to Mexican rebels, Congress gave President William Howard Taft more specific authority to handle the situation than it had delegated to Roosevelt. It amended the 1898 resolution to provide that when there existed in any Western Hemisphere country conditions of domestic violence promoted by U.S. arms, the president should proclaim that fact. This would make exports of arms or munitions illegal except as the president provided. In effect, this gave the president the right to provide arms to whichever side he favored. Taft used this authority to embargo all arms to Mexico, but when a revolt broke out against the reviled Victoriano Huerta, President Woodrow Wilson lifted the embargo so that arms could be shipped to Huerta's opponents. When the United States recognized the government of Venustiano Carranza, it restored the embargo but made American arms available to Carranza's forces near the U.S. border. Then Pancho Villa began raiding in the area, so Wilson sent General John J. Pershing across the border after him and removed the exemption to the embargo. Thus, the United States had begun a regular use of arms embargoes as a means of controlling or manipulating domestic revolutionary situations in the Western Hemisphere, as well as using them to prevent aid to nations with which it was at war.

During this same period, U.S. businesses began serious overseas operations and another kind of embargo made its appearancethe capital embargo. Throughout most of American history, capital embargoes applied only to loans involving the public sale of foreign bonds and were quite informal. The government had only to recommend against a loan, and foreign bonds would not find purchasers because prospective buyers knew that the government would not enforce payment if the borrowing country should default. Thus, Taft's secretary of state, Philander C. Knox, discouraged a loan to China during the revolution of 1911, and Wilson discouraged a consortium seeking to reorganize a loan to China in 1913. Wilson also advised against loans to the belligerents during World War I but reversed that policy in 1916. In March 1922 the State Department made its informal policy official by announcing the hope that American corporations contemplating loans would check with the department first.

Just prior to World War I, Wilson dusted off the idea of a broader use of economic sanctions as a means of forcing the British to reduce their interference with American shipping to the European continent. In September 1916, he persuaded Congress to pass a law permitting him to ban imports and deny clearance for any departing vessels. After his reelection in November of that year, he hinted to the British that he might use that authority to embargo arms or deny clearance to vessels refusing to carry goods for firms black-listed by the British. Since the British blockade had already cut off trade to Germany, any embargo would hurt only the Allies, thus paralleling the situation in Jefferson's day. Wilson never actually exercised his authority because he was more concerned with German submarine warfare than with the British blockade or black-list. He did not want to find himself in the position of Jefferson and Madison, locked in a dispute with both belligerents at the same time or allied with the wrong nation because it capitulated more quickly to U.S. sanctions.

With the entry of the United States into the war, Congress embargoed all supplies to the Central Powers by passing the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917. This embargo was wielded against the neutral powers of Europe, driving them into agreements to limit trade with the Central Powers in exchange for vitally needed goods from the United States. These agreements, along with blacklisting and limits on coal supplied to ships seeking refueling at U.S. ports and bases directed against firms within neutral countries suspected of trading with the enemy, tightened the economic noose that the Allied blockade and American embargo placed around the Central Powers and contributed substantially to the Allied victory in World War I.

After the war there arose in the United States a general revulsion against American involvement in world politics, and the policy of using economic sanctions as an alternative to political or military entanglements came to play an important part in the debate over the shaping of a new foreign policy for the United States. As a kind of prelude, Congress made two minor gestures in 1922. It expanded the arms embargo of 1912, which had previously applied only to Western Hemisphere countries, and permitted the president to embargo arms to countries where the United States exercised extraterritorial jurisdiction whenever there existed conditions of civil violence. This law was directed primarily at China. Also in 1922, the State Department recommended against credits to Soviet Russia because that nation refused to pay its war debts. But neither this capital embargo nor the refusal to recognize the Bolshevik regime hindered American trade with the Soviets.

Consideration of a broader use of the arms embargo began later in the 1920s. Some influential Americans wanted the president to have authority to embargo arms and munitions to any aggressor nation. They saw this measure as a chance for the United States to cooperate with the League of Nations. They were fearful that America's traditional policy of neutrality, which insisted on a neutral's rights to trade with all belligerents, would undermine any system of collective sanctions the league might undertake. Conversely, American cooperation in those sanctions would strengthen the league and the system of collective security immeasurably. Thus, they argued for a discretionary embargo, which would allow the president to embargo arms to aggressor nations but to supply arms to the victims of that aggression.

The movement for cooperation with the league ran head-on into a growing countermovement inspired by disillusionment with World War I and a belief that American involvement in the war had been manipulated by munitions makers and other so-called merchants of death. This countermovement, too, called for an arms embargo, but its advocates insisted that the embargo be impartial. The purpose should be to keep the United States out of any future wars, not to deter future wars by the threat of collective sanctions against aggressors. This debate created a groundswell of support for some sort of arms embargo. By the mid-1930s, only a few congressional voices, along with the weapons manufacturers themselves, still called for adherence to America's traditional policy of enforcing a neutral's right to trade with belligerents in any commodities whatever.

Although the debate over arms embargoes began in 1928, Congress did not pass the first Neutrality Act until 1935. Henry Stimson, secretary of state in the late 1920s, favored a discretionary embargo to strengthen collective security but received little support from President Herbert Hoover. Without strong administration backing, the measure failed. Hoover was particularly adamant against imposing economic sanctions on Japan for its aggression in Manchuria, sanctions strongly favored by Stimson. Instead, Hoover forced Stimson to retreat to an ineffective policy of refusing to recognize any gains Japan might make, a policy ironically known as the Stimson Doctrine.

Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the presidency pledged to Stimson's policy of discretionary embargoes. Such an embargo actually passed the House in 1932. But when it encountered opposition in the Senate, Roosevelt consented to an impartial embargo, a complete negation of collective security. When his own advisers, including Secretary of State Cordell Hull, objected to his concession, Roosevelt agreed to drop the whole matter, and the embargo died.

The issue was revived during the next congressional session, however. Bolivia and Paraguay were engaged in the Chaco War, and the administration wanted to cooperate with the League of Nations in an arms embargo against both nations. Roosevelt could have supported a general impartial embargo on all warring nations; one was already before the Senate. But he still hoped for a discretionary embargo, and so he settled for a specific resolution embargoing arms to Bolivia and Paraguay only. This was the first time the United States had adopted an embargo avowedly for the purpose of stopping a war between two countries, and in that way it could be seen as a step toward collective security. In fact, it strengthened the concept of an impartial embargo because it stopped arms to both countries. The widely publicized Nye Committee hearings and the publication of several best-selling books further strengthened the concept of an impartial embargo by promoting the idea that American economic interests, particularly the munitions makers, had been responsible for America's entry into World War I. Perhaps even more important in the movement for an impartial embargo were the growing crises in Europe and Asia, as Japan, Germany, and Italy engaged the other powers in an arms race and embarked on campaigns of territorial expansion. Many hoped that the United States could escape the coming conflagration by embargoing arms and thus not repeating the supposed error of becoming involved in World War I.

The result of this growing movement was the Neutrality Act of 1935. Rejecting an administration bill allowing discretionary embargoes, Congress instead passed a mandatory impartial embargo on arms to belligerents, closed American ports to belligerent submarines, and prohibited Americans from taking passage on belligerent liners. The administration managed to limit the act to six months' duration, and then to use it for its own purposes. When Italy attacked Ethiopia, Roosevelt, to show America's displeasure with Italy, put the Neutrality Act into effect and declared a further "moral embargo" on any trade with the belligerents that was not covered by the Neutrality Act. Although supposedly impartial, the actions hurt only Italy. The United States had no trade with Ethiopia, and Ethiopia had no passenger liners to suffer from a prohibition against American passengers.

Although these actions may have given America some spiritual satisfaction, they had little effect on the course of world events. American businesses defied the moral embargo, and the League of Nations embargo omitted oil from the list of prohibited exports. Since oil was Italy's most vital need, the conquest of Ethiopia continued apace. This failure notwithstanding, Congress renewed the Neutrality Act in 1936 and added a provision prohibiting loans to belligerents. The administration and the business community managed to stave off a movement for an impartial general embargo rather than a mere arms embargo, but sentiment for a general embargo gained considerable strength as the year wore on.

When civil war broke out in Spain later in 1936, Congress honored the administration's request to embargo arms to that country. As Germany and Italy began to provide massive support for Francisco Franco, liberals put considerable pressure on the U.S. government to lift the embargo and supply the Loyalists. But the embargo remained. The advocates of collective security had been defeated again.

In 1937, congressional pressure to expand the arms embargo to a general embargo applying to all belligerents frightened many businessmen, and they sought a way to sidetrack the issue. Presidential adviser Bernard Baruch came up with a suggestion of "cash-and-carry," arguing that as long as American goods were purchased and transported by belligerents, the capture or sinking of the goods would not affect the United States. In return for other concessions, the administration succeeded in making the cash-and-carry principle discretionary, to be instigated with the rest of the Neutrality Act only at the option of the president. Roosevelt was also willing to accept cash-and-carry because he realized it would favor Britain and France; Great Britain controlled the seas and could ensure that only Allied ships would reach the United States to take advantage of the offer. The Neutrality Act of 1937 passed Congress just one day before the expiration of the act of 1936 and was flown to the presidential yacht in the Gulf of Mexico for Roosevelt's signature.

The Neutrality Act of 1937 was the high-water mark for advocates of an impartial neutrality; the decline of the movement had already begun. American sentiment was heavily against Franco's forces, and many regretted the embargo on arms to his opponents. Then, in 1937, Japan renewed its war against China. By rights, Roosevelt was supposed to embargo arms and loans to both nations and, if he chose, to establish the cash-and-carry policy. But both of these actions would favor Japan, since China needed the arms and credits, whereas Japan needed neither. Also, Japan was a sea power capable of taking advantage of the cash-and-carry policy. Roosevelt avoided this dilemma by pointing to the technicality that no official declaration of war had been made. Thus, he refused to invoke the Neutrality Act, enabling private loans and arms to continue to flow to China. Roosevelt followed this action with his famous quarantine speech and then imposed a moral embargo on exports of aircraft to Japan. Although isolationism remained strong and Roosevelt was forced to retreat from his quarantine policy, the American people generally accepted his tacit ignoring of the Neutrality Act. The United States was beginning to use sanctions as weapons against aggressors rather than as a means of avoiding conflicts.


In 1938 Roosevelt failed to secure revision of the Neutrality Act. It was not until Germany invaded Poland in 1939, setting off World War II, that Congress revised the act. Even then, Roosevelt had to disguise his actions by claiming that the arms embargo actually endangered the peace of the United States. He also offered to bar American ships from designated war zones. He was thus able to persuade Congress to place arms on the same cash-and-carry basis as other commodities. He then went on to greater aid measures, such as the destroyer deal and lend-lease.

But while Roosevelt turned from sanctions toward measures of positive aid to Europe, in Asia his administration moved toward a more pointed use of embargoes against Japan. Japan relied heavily upon American oil and metals to supply its war effort in China. Any threat to stop those exports would have a significant impact on Japanese plans. The swing of public opinion and the revision of the Neutrality Act in 1939 allowed Roosevelt to take some action on behalf of China. So, in May 1939 the United States notified Japan that it was withdrawing from the 1911 Treaty of Commerce. According to terms of the treaty, in six months the United States would be free to limit or terminate exports to Japan. Roosevelt hoped this would give the Japanese pause, but Japan continued its war in China. The U.S. government hesitated to implement sanctions for fear that they would drive Japan to replace the embargoed items by invading new sources of supply. This would most likely be Southeast Asia, where French, British, and Dutch colonies were supplying those same vital materials to America's allies in Europe. The six-month period of grace passed, then a year, with no sanctions applied.

In July 1940, a cabinet change in Japan signaled a more aggressive Japanese policy in South-east Asia. With that, the United States imposed an embargo on aviation gasoline and high-grade scrap iron to Japan. This embargo affected only a fraction of exports to Japan, and the U.S. government went to some lengths to justify the embargo on the grounds of American domestic needs rather than any displeasure with Japan. Still, the embargo signaled the Japanese that the United States would oppose any moves against Southeast Asia.

Instead of backing down, Japan accelerated its search for more secure sources of vital raw materials. It extorted concessions from the Dutch East Indies, coerced Vichy France into allowing Japanese occupation of northern Indochina, and began negotiations for an alliance with Germany and Italy. The United States responded with a complete embargo on scrap iron, but this was followed the very next day by the formal announcement of the Axis pact. The United States continued to expand its embargo, extending it to tools, iron, steel, copper, bronze, and many other critical metals. When the United States intercepted Japanese messages detailing plans for further expansion in Southeast Asia and reports arrived that Japanese transports were moving on southern Indochina, Roosevelt decided on a last-ditch gamble to stop Japanese expansion. He issued an order freezing all Japanese assets in the United States. Only a special license from the U.S. government could release Japanese assets to pay for American exports, including, most critically, oil. When the British and Dutch joined the oil embargo, it cut off the vital Southeast Asian sources of raw materials as well. With only a two-year supply of petroleum, Japan either had to give up the war in China or secure its own sources of supply. Japan first tried diplomacy, but negotiations with the United States failed, and Japan declared war. During World War II, the United States used the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act to impose a complete embargo on the Axis powers.


The United States emerged from World War II as the only great power whose economy had escaped the conflict relatively unscathed. Consequently, it was a potential reservoir for rebuilding war-torn nations and was often the sole supplier of critical goods. Such economic power inevitably made economic sanctions an attractive option for the United States in the Cold War, despite the dismal record of embargoes in American history. Economic sanctions were often the only recourse for the United States when fear of nuclear war or other political constraints put limits on the use of military force.

In 1948, the United States began a campaign of economic sanctions against the Soviet Union that would last more than fifty years. In March of that year, the Department of Commerce announced restrictions on exports to the Soviet Union and its European allies. Congress formalized these restrictions in the Export Control Act of 1949. Originally, Congress intended this act as a temporary measure to keep arms and strategic materials out of the hands of potential enemies, but the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 made the Cold War more rigid and the measure became permanent. In 1951, the United States attempted to strengthen these sanctions with the so-called Battle Act. According to this act, the United States would refuse assistance to any nation that did not embargo strategic goods, including oil, to the Soviet Union and nations subject to its influence. Under pressure from its allies, the United States accepted many exemptions from this act and it was not notably effective.

For many years, the embargo on the Soviet Union was quite severe. The embargo on Eastern European countries was less stringent, in hopes of driving a wedge between the Soviet Union and its allies. Two of the most independent East European nations, Poland and Romania, were given particularly mild treatment. With the growing détente of the 1970s, trade restrictions on the Soviet Union and its allies were increasingly lightened, most notably in the permission granted the Soviets to purchase large amounts of American wheat when Soviet crops failed in 1973. But restrictions were tightened again after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. In 1983, Ronald Reagan approved the National Security Decision Directive 75, which set the policy of using economic pressure to limit the foreign policy and military options of the Soviets. This stricter regime of sanctions led to considerable conflict with America's allies on the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM), especially over the export of oil and gas equipment.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a major debate broke out over the contribution that the campaign of economic sanctions had made toward the fall of the Soviet empire. Many former officials in the Reagan administration credited sanctions with a significant role in the disintegration of the Soviet economy and therefore of the Soviet Union itself. On the other hand, the leading work on the effectiveness of economic sanctionsHufbauer, Schott, and Elliott, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered (vol. 1, p. 137)concludes that although the United States did succeed in denying some arms and key technologies to the Soviets, the collapse stemmed from internal inefficiencies rather than U.S. economic sanctions.

Ironically, the most effective use of economic sanctions made by the United States during the Cold War in Europe was against its own allies, Great Britain, France, and Israel, during the Suez Crisis of 1956. When those three powers concerted to invade Egypt in response to Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal, President Dwight Eisenhower not only warned them to retreat, he began a massive sell-off of British pounds and embargoed U.S. oil shipments to the three nations. For one of the few times in history, sanctions stopped a military invasion in its tracks.

During the Cold War in Asia, the United States imposed embargoes on North Korea, China, and North Vietnam. These were severe embargoes established under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The embargo of China and North Korea began in 1950, during the Korean War. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles insisted that the embargo continue after the war, but America's allies protested, arguing that such trade should be under the same regulation as trade to Eastern Europe. The United States used the Battle Act to prevent this, but in 1957 gave way to allow its allies to trade with China and North Korea. The United States, however, maintained its own unilateral embargo until 1969, when the administration of Richard M. Nixon lifted restrictions on most trade to China except for strategically important goods. The economic effect of the embargo on China was minimal because China itself chose to restrict imports to what it could pay for with its few exports. China found all the imports it needed in Europe anyway.

The United States reimposed some sanctions on China after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. President George H. W. Bush suspended arms and some commercial contracts but maintained China's most-favored-nation status. Congress, however, continuously threatened to remove that status in order to apply pressure against China over its record on human rights. Using the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, which was originally designed to force the Soviet Union to permit Jewish emigration, Congress required the president to certify annually that China was respecting human rights before he could renew its MFN status. Ultimately, in 1999, President Bill Clinton narrowly succeeded in convincing Congress to grant China permanent MFN status and permit China to join the World Trade Organization. Clinton argued that the best way to influence China was to keep it engaged in the world economy and polity. The likelihood that the United States would resort to economic sanctions to influence China's human rights policy in the near future diminished as a result of this decision, but the United States continues to hold out the possibility of sanctions against China's nuclear proliferation policies by restricting Chinese access to advanced technologies.

While the United States relaxed its harsh economic sanctions against China a few years after the Korean War, it maintained those sanctions against North Korea because of human rights violations, a nascent nuclear building program, and a continuing military threat to South Korea. In 1994, North Korea's concessions on its nuclear program led the United States to lessen the restrictions and offer some aid. A famine in North Korea and the growing détente between North and South Korea have brought some increase in that aid, but U.S. sanctions against North Korea were still quite severe at the turn of the century.

Economic sanctions accompanied America's war against North Vietnam just as they did previous U.S. conflicts. The Eisenhower administration suspended all export licenses for North Vietnam in 1954, shortly after the Geneva Convention temporarily divided Vietnam in two. President Lyndon Johnson extended those sanctions to a prohibition of all commercial and financial transactions with North Vietnam when the war escalated in 1964. Although the peace agreement signed in 1973 included a provision for renegotiating economic ties, the final conquest of South Vietnam by North Vietnam in 1975 resulted in an extension of the sanctions to all of Vietnam. President Jimmy Carter moved toward easing those restrictions, but he was thwarted first by congressional opposition and then by Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia. Thus, sanctions remained in place until February 1994, when Bill Clinton ended the nineteen-year trade embargo.

America's Cold War embargoes and sanctions in the Western Hemisphere were somewhat different from those in either Europe or Asia. Rather than being attempts to punish military adventures or to slow the arms buildups of major powers, the United States used sanctions to destabilize weaker regimes that were too friendly to the Soviet Union or otherwise threatened stability and U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere.

The United States levied the most stringent and long-lived of its sanctions against Cuba. In 1962, following the embarrassing defeat at the Bay of Pigs, President John F. Kennedy expanded a set of piecemeal sanctions that had been imposed on Cuba after its 1959 revolution by using congressional authorization to embargo all trade with Cuba. The United States then brought pressure on the Organization of American States and the NATO allies to follow suit, especially by threatening to deny aid to, and penalize companies of, nations continuing to trade with Cuba. The OAS did embargo trade except for food and medical supplies, but there was considerable leakage. More important, the Soviets granted large subsidies to keep the Cuban economy afloat, primarily by trading oil to Cuba for sugar on extremely favorable terms.

The fall of the Soviet Union and the elimination of its subsidies devastated the Cuban economy. Some in the United States thought that the end of the Cold War should lead to a termination of the Cuban embargo as well. But others, especially the Cuban exile lobby in Florida, thought that the end of Soviet subsidies provided a chance to tighten the embargo and finally oust Castro. Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, with an eye on Florida's twenty-five electoral votes, tightened restrictions on U.S. foreign subsidiaries trading with Cuba, on the grounds that Cuba needed to improve human rights on the island. The U.S. Congress went even further. In 1996, it passed legislation sponsored by Senator Jesse Helms and Representative Dan Burton to apply economic sanctions to any U.S. ally that continued to trade with Cuba. President Bill Clinton threatened to veto the legislation until Cuba shot down two civilian planes being flown toward Cuba by anti-Castro Cuban exiles. The furor this created in the midst of the 1996 presidential election brought Clinton to sign the Helms-Burton Act, but bitter protests from America's allies and Clinton's own inclinations caused the president to suspend the most onerous provisions of the act indefinitely. America's allies continued to simmer over this attempt to force their participation in the U.S. embargo of Cuba, especially because the United States was passing similar legislation to coerce an expansion of existing embargoes against Libya and Iran. In the annual votes of the UN General Assembly that urged the United States to abandon its sanctions against Cuba, the United States found itself increasingly alone. Meanwhile, Castro hung on to power and continued to defy the United States.

Sanctions against other Latin American nations during the Cold War were somewhat more effective. When President Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic tried to have President Romulo Betancourt of Venezuela assassinated in 1960, the United States limited the Dominican sugar quota and successfully pressed two-thirds of the OAS members to vote for an embargo on oil, trucks, and spare parts to Trujillo. The sanctions did play a part in the fall of Trujillo's regime, but the assassination of Trujillo and subsequent threats of military force against his successors played a larger part.

Sanctions also played a minor part in the military coup that ousted Joao Goulart of Brazil in 1964. They destroyed the viability of Salvador Allende's government in Chile, which made it easier for the Chilean military, with U.S. support, to overthrow Allende in 1973. Sanctions helped to strangle the economy of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas and secure the election of the opposition UNO party favored by the United States in 1990. Finally, the denial of aid and loans to Manuel Noriega's government in Panama sowed much discontent, paving the way for the U.S. invasion of Panama and the arrest of Noriega in 1989. Thus, economic sanctions against regimes in Latin America during the Cold War had a more obvious effect than they did in Europe or Asia, primarily because those regimes were already weak and unstable, and received little outside help from the Soviet Union. But, even then, sanctions in Latin America most often required covert activities and military action to succeed fully.

Because the United States had fewer vital interests in Africa than in Europe, Asia, or Latin America, there were fewer instances of American economic sanctions. The United States did institute sanctions against Angola and Ethiopia in the 1970s to counter Soviet influence. But in the two major instances of embargoes and sanctions, South Africa and Rhodesia, the United States was a reluctant and partial participant in UN sanctions rather than an initiator of them. This was because the human rights objectives of the sanctions, with which the United States for the most part sympathized, threatened America's Cold War interests in the strategic materials supplied by South Africa and Rhodesia. In both cases, therefore, the United States supported limited sanctions as a moderate alternative to the more militant actions demanded by a majority of United Nations members.

From 1951 to 1962, the United States embargoed any arms to South Africa that could be used domestically to support apartheid; it extended that embargo to all arms in 1962. The United States and its allies, Britain and France, voted consistently against attempts by the United Nations to apply further sanctions, however. Jimmy Carter tightened arms sanctions slightly, but Ronald Reagan reversed course with his policy of "constructive engagement." Reagan specifically undercut a concerted UN move to impose wider sanctions on South Africa in support of the independence of Namibia by tying any action on Namibia to the exodus of Cuban troops from Angola. Congress, however, steadily pressed for tighter sanctions and, in 1986, overrode Reagan's veto to extend sanctions beyond arms to loans, new investments, and many imports. Combined with the sanctions of the United Nations and the refusal of many private banks to roll over South African loans, these economic pressures contributed significantly to the internal pressures from black anti-apartheid rebels that finally brought the white regime to accept a new constitution installing majority rule in the 1990s.

In Rhodesia, when Ian Smith declared independence from the British Commonwealth in 1965 as a means of maintaining white rule, the United States followed the lead of Great Britain in the United Nations. The United States first joined a 1966 embargo on oil, arms, and spare parts along with a boycott of major Rhodesian products; it then moved on to a complete embargo in 1968. While responding to these initiatives of the United Nations, the United States voted against proposals that called on Britain to use force against Rhodesia. The United States cast its first veto ever in the Security Council to defeat such a measure in 1970. In 1971, a coalition of conservative legislators led by Harry F. Byrd, Jr., sponsored an amendment forbidding the United States to boycott products from noncommunist countries unless it also boycotted such products coming from communist nations. Because the United States was importing much of its chromium from Russia instead of its usual supplier, Rhodesia, the Byrd amendment opened the door once again to imports of Rhodesian chromium. Although South Africa and Portugal had tacitly defied the embargo to the point that Rhodesia's exports and imports were almost back to the pre-embargo level by 1972, the American action was the first formal defiance of United Nations economic sanctions. This congressional action seriously embarrassed the United States in the United Nations until 1977, when the Carter administration secured the repeal of the amendment and reinstituted the sanctions. By 1979, Smith had succumbed and agreed to majority rule.


The Carter administration enhanced the use of sanctions for human rights purposes in areas outside Africa as well. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the administration of Gerald Ford resisted a 1973 congressional initiative that would have denied aid to nations that violated human rights, but Carter was more favorable to this tactic. With Carter's support, Congress attached riders to military aid bills denying aid to South Korea, Chile, Uruguay, the Philippines, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Argentina, and Zaire. Carter used his presidential prerogative to expand further the list of nations denied security aid on human rights grounds to include Bolivia, Haiti, and Iran. Reagan reversed course on this and vetoed legislation that tied aid to human rights, but with the end of the Cold War, the United States once again adopted sanctions on human rights grounds, most notably against China, Iraq, and Serbia.

In the 1970s, the United States also began using sanctions specifically against terrorism. Congressional legislation in 1976 and 1977 prohibited aid and exports to nations abetting terrorism. At the behest of Congress, the State Department began issuing lists of nations supporting terrorism. These lists included Libya, Syria, Iraq, Cuba, South Yemen, and Iran.

In the same decade, the United States and many other nations began using sanctions to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These sanctions sought to stop trade in items related to nuclear weapons with nations that refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The nations most affected were Brazil, Argentina, India, Pakistan, and Iraq.


With the end of the Cold War, the United States had greater success in persuading other nations to join it in imposing sanctions against terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and violations of human rights. Rival powers on the UN Security Council no longer automatically vetoed sanctions that affected their respective allies. The two most prominent crises in which broad multilateral sanctions played a major role were the Gulf War of 1991 and the meltdown of the former Yugoslavia. Sanctions in these cases succeeded in devastating the economies of the two rogue nations at the center of the crises, Iraq and Serbia. But in the end it took military force to compel the leaders of those countries to make major changes of policy.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the United States and the UN Security Council sanctioned all Iraqi trade and financial aid. But Saddam Hussein defied the bans and received substantial supplies through sympathetic Palestinians in Jordan. He also made a firm peace with Iran, thus securing his borders. As Saddam showed no signs of relenting on Kuwait, President George Bush began pushing his allies for military action. Many American leaders, including the former chairman of Reagan's joint chiefs of staff, Admiral William Crowe, argued that continuing sanctions might well force Saddam to settle without further bloodshed. Bush's own joint chiefs, led by General Colin Powell, were also reluctant to go to war, but were willing to do so if overwhelming force were used to avoid another Vietnam. Bush agreed, and the resulting Operation Desert Storm routed Saddam's army. But the allied armies stopped before taking Baghdad or capturing Saddam himself. They then signed an agreement with Saddam that restored Kuwait's border and permitted inspections to ensure the dismantling of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam defied those agreements, and the United States and the United Nations continued their sanctions to try to bring him into line. Nevertheless, Saddam held out for more than a decade while the sanctions regime slowly declined. The United States and its allies exempted some Iraqi oil from the sanctions under strict controls to see that the money was used for humanitarian purposes within Iraq and to compensate Kuwait for war damages. But Saddam managed to divert some of that aid to maintaining his regime. He also smuggled oil, with the cooperation of Iran and others, to keep himself afloat. Meanwhile, Russia, France, and other nations pressed for further loosening or even ending the sanctions, on the grounds that Saddam had sufficiently conformed to his agreements and that the embargoes bore most heavily on innocent civilians.

Multilateral sanctions also played a major part in the Balkan crises of the 1990s. After the death of Tito, Slobodan Milosevic began appealing to Serbian nationalism as a substitute for the collapsing communist ideology that previously had sustained his position. As a result of growing Serb militancy, Slovenia, Croatia, and then Bosnia declared their independence. Milosevic used his control of the Yugoslav army and heavy weapons to invade Bosnia and Croatia in support of the Serb inhabitants of those areas. He then expelled or massacred all non-Serbs in the conquered areas, in a program dubbed "ethnic cleansing." The Croats and Muslims often returned the favor of ethnic cleansing when they had the chance, but the imbalance of power gave them fewer of those opportunities.

The United States under George H. W. Bush left the Europeans to furnish a few thousand UN troops to deliver humanitarian aid to besieged areas while America led the Security Council to impose an economic blockade of Serbia. By 1994, the blockade had worn Milosevic down to the point that he deserted the Bosnian Serbs and joined the embargo against them in hopes of getting the sanctions lifted against Serbia. But the Bosnian Serbs refused to quit. In July 1995, they brushed aside a UN force protecting the sanctuary of Srbrenica, massacred the adult males, and brutalized many others. Finally, the United States and NATO began a major bombing campaign that, combined with pressure from a rejuvenated Croat army, forced Milosevic to the peace table. At Dayton, Ohio, in November 1995, Bill Clinton succeeded in hammering out a peace agreement to be enforced by an enlarged UN contingent to which the United States would contribute one-third of the troops.

Milosevic, however, began a similar ethnic cleansing program in Kosovo in 1998. Despite the reluctance of Russia, the NATO allies restored sanctions against Milosevic. They eased them when he agreed to negotiate with the Kosovar Muslims, but nothing came of the talks, and Milosevic resumed military activities in Kosovo. It was clear to all that mere sanctions would not change Milosevic's policy, so NATO resorted to threats, and finally the use of force. A devastating ten-week bombing campaign ultimately brought Milosevic to retreat from Kosovo in favor of a UN peacekeeping force that included U.S. troops.


The United States also imposed economic sanctions in cases far less serious than Iraq and Serbia after the Cold War. It was imposing sanctions against forty different nations as of 1999. Certainly, the United States was using sanctions more often than any other nation. In fact, many critics believed that its use of sanctions had gotten out of hand. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, a major compilation of case studies by Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliott concerning economic sanctions as exercised throughout the world in the twentieth century, concludes that sanctions worked only about one-third of the time, usually when they were exercised decisively rather than gradually, had multilateral rather than mere unilateral support, and were directed at rather weak and unstable regimes (vol. 1, p. 93). Truly altering a nation's fundamental political or military policy most often required military force. The history of sanctions in American history as narrated here seems to bear out that analysis.

On the other hand, sanctions have served purposes beyond the most ambitious one of changing another nation's fundamental policy decisions. Sanctions have signaled to adversaries, allies, and America's domestic constituencies the seriousness of an issue. They have prepared domestic constituencies for the possibility of armed conflict by making clear that all peaceful options were being tried before resorting to war. They have weakened the economies of adversaries in ways that interfered with their preparations for conflict. And they have served as an object lesson for future adversaries. Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein demonstrated that determined regimes can survive powerful sanctions for an extended period of time, but the ravages on their economy certainly ensure that no nation will risk such sanctions lightly in the future.

Nevertheless, sanctions also have produced nationalist reactions in target nations that stiffened rather than weakened resistance to America's foreign policy goals. Moreover, even friendly nations often refuse to go along with U.S. sanctions, and the economic effect is simply to transfer commerce from the United States to other countries. In the end, then, sanctions are a tempting means for the U.S. government to try to coerce cooperation with its policies by means short of war and to signal its determination at home and abroad, but in the absence of the threat or use of military force, embargoes and sanctions do not often succeed in changing a nation's fundamental policies, and they impose costs on the initiator as well as the object of such measures.


Combs, Jerald A. The Jay Treaty: Political Battleground of the Founding Fathers. Berkeley, Calif., 1970. Deals with the struggle between Madison and Hamilton over economic retaliation, culminating in the embargo of 1794 and Jay's Treaty.

Cortright, David, and George A. Lopez. The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s. Boulder, Colo., 2000. Surveys of U.S. and UN sanctions against Iraq, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Liberia, and Rwanda. The authors argue that sanctions are a valuable tool and can work if they are carefully designed to include carrots as well as sticks.

Cortright, David, and George A. Lopez, eds. Economic Sanctions: Panacea or Peacebuilding in a PostCold War World. Boulder, Colo., 1995. A collection of essays with contrasting views on the efficacy and morality of sanctions. There are specific case studies of the sanctions against Iraq, Serbia, Haiti, and South Africa.

Day, Erin. Economic Sanctions Imposed by the United States against Specific Countries: 1979 Through 1992. Washington, D.C., 1992. A reference work compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

Divine, Robert A. The Illusion of Neutrality: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Struggle over the Arms Embargo. 2d ed. New York, 1979. An excellent account of the sanctions contained in the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s.

Gibbons, Elizabeth D. Sanctions in Haiti: Human Rights and Democracy under Assault. Westport, Conn., 1999. Documents the impact of sanctions on unintended victims, the general population.

Gilbert, Felix. To the Farewell Address: Ideas of Early American Foreign Policy. Princeton, N.J., 1961. A brilliant exposition of American ideas of economic warfare during the nation's formative years.

Haass, Richard N., ed. Economic Sanctions and American Diplomacy. New York, 1998. An outstanding group of essays covering the postCold War sanctions against China, Cuba, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and the former Yugoslavia.

Hanlon, Joseph, ed. South Africa: The Sanctions Report. Documents and Statistics. London, 1990. A collection that spells out the economic impact of sanctions on South Africa.

Heinrichs, Waldo. Threshold of War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Entry into World War II. New York, 1988. A good discussion of Roosevelt's use of sanctions against Japan before World War II.

Hufbauer, Gary Clyde, Jeffrey J. Schott, and Kimberly Ann Elliott. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered. 2d ed. 2 vols. Washington, D.C., 1990. An encyclopedic work that contains case studies of most of the twentieth-century sanctions discussed in this essay.

Jensen, Merill. The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 17631776. New York, 1968. A good account of pre-Revolution economic action.

Kunz, Diane B. Butter and Guns: America's Cold War Economic Diplomacy. New York, 1997. Contains much on sanctions since 1945.

May, Ernest R. The World War and American Isolation, 19141917. Cambridge, Mass., 1959. An excellent account of how Woodrow Wilson dealt with the Allied embargo against Germany before World War I.

Moore, John Bassett. A Digest of International Law. 8 vols. Washington, D.C., 1906. A good reference source for early American precedents.

Owsley, Frank L., and Harriet C. Owsley. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. 2d ed. Chicago, 1959. The most complete work on King Cotton diplomacy during the Civil War.

Perkins, Bradford. Prologue to War: England and the United States, 18051812. Berkeley, Calif., 1961. The best work on the economic measures leading to the War of 1812.

Preeg, Ernest H. Cuba and the New Caribbean Economic Order. Washington, D.C., 1993. Details the problems with the unilateral U.S. embargo against Cuba.

. Feeling Good or Doing Good with Sanctions: Unilateral Economic Sanctions and the U.S. National Interest. Washington, D.C., 1999. An opponent of unilateral economic sanctions examines the U.S. embargoes against Cuba, Iran, Vietnam, Myanmar, and China.

Singleton, Solveig, and Daniel T. Griswold, eds. Economic Casualties: How U.S. Foreign Policy Undermines Trade, Growth, and Liberty. Washington, D.C., 1999. A collection of passionate essays by politicians and analysts opposed to sanctions.

Spivak, Burton. Jefferson's English Crisis: Commerce, Embargo, and the Republican Revolution. Charlottesville, Va., 1979. The best work on Jefferson's embargo.

Waldmeir, Patti. Anatomy of a Miracle: The End of Apartheid and the Birth of a New South Africa. New York, 1997. Recounts the successful use of sanctions in South Africa.

See also Blockades; Continental System; Economic Policy and Theory; Freedom of the Seas; Naval Diplomacy; Oil


Historians, analysts, and politicians differ passionately about the efficacy and morality of America's record in using sanctions, as one can readily see from the following quotations:

"A nation that is boycotted is a nation that is in sight of surrender. Apply this economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy and there will be no need for force. It is a terrible remedy. It does not cost a life outside the nation boycotted, but it brings a pressure upon the nation which, in my judgment, no modern nation could resist."

Woodrow Wilson, quoted in Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliott, vol. 1, p. 9.

"We use sanctions so oftennearly 100 times this centurythat they have become America's grand diplomatic experiment. This experiment, repeated many times, shows [that sanctions do not work and are America's folly]. A nation boycotted is not in sight of surrender: recall North Korea, Cuba, and Iran. In achieving 'high' foreign policy goals, sanctions are not a substitute for force, but they can be a prelude to forceconsider Iraq, Haiti, Bosnia. Contrary to [Woodrow] Wilson's belief, economy sanctions have turned out to be an offer that nearly every target can refusenot only powerful China, but also powerless Panama."

From Gary C. Hufbauer, "Economic Sanctions: America's Folly," in Singleton and Griswold, pp. 9192.

"Sanctions can offer a nonmilitary alternative to the terrible options of war or indifference when confronted with aggression or injustice."

National Conference of Catholic Bishops, quoted in Haass, p. 2.

"[Sanctions] do not work. it is important for us to rec ognize as a nation the enormous value of having American businesses engaged around the world. To recognize that engagement does more to encourage democracy and freedom, to open up societies, to create opportunities for millions of people who up until now have not been able to participate, than just about anything else we can do."

Richard B. Cheney, "Defending Liberty in a Global Economy," quoted in Singleton and Griswold, p.27.

"It is indisputable that the myriad pressures generated by the many forms of sanctions imposed on South Africa forced the previously immovable and inflexible system of apartheid to recognize the necessity of change."

Jennifer Davis, "Sanctions and Apartheid: The Economic Challenge to Discrimination," in Cortright and Lopez, p.181.

"The economic sanctions continued to strangle the people of Iraq, and the country has been pushed to the verge of collapse, placing the life of its civilian population in great peril."

Bashsir Al-Samarrai, "Economic Sanctions Against Iraq: Do They Contribute to a Just Settlement?" in Cortright and Lopez, p. 135.