Do sanctions really work?

Russia has faced restrictions for years, but all they've done is push Moscow further away from the West

Sanctions have been the chosen weapon by the United States for the less savory international conflicts of interest. While the United States claims that these measures are put in place to protect international peace and national interests, history has shown quite the opposite. Furthermore, the American people more often than not become targets of aggressive and excessive economic sanctions.

The Failure of American Sanctions

The efficacy of sanctions – or the lack thereof – is not a secret. Time and time again, the United States has clung to sanctions as its de facto power of tough diplomacy. Yet, the United States has not recognized reality: sanctions do not work. And in its continued reliance upon them, the U.S. has shown its hand as using economic sanctions as a tool to bully or make a show of things rather than to enact positive change in the world.

Sanctions rarely have the desired effect against the United States’ adversaries. In fact, all too off sanctions bolster those in power who use the threat of the United States overstepping in domestic and international affairs as a way to influence national public opinion.

In the United States’ effort to throttle the economy of any country or regime that stands against Congress’ efforts and idea for how the world should work and operate, the world community has seen this in Iran, where the sanctions put in place after the 1979 revolution fueled the Shia-majority country’s aggressive policies in the Middle East, and once more in Cuba, where sanctions have existed for over 60 years, and yet the nation is still terrorized by an authoritarian regime.

While such extremes have not been the result in Russia, anti-American sentiment has sharply risen due to the United States’ sanctions against Russia, Russian companies and Russian individuals for the reunification of Crimea with Russia.

But sanctions against Russia did not start with Crimea. There still exist several sanctions against Russia and Russian firms and individuals that the United States put in place during the Yeltsin era.

Sanctions for Crimea are not only a continuation of the United States’ proven-to-fail way of dealing with complex international events, especially against Russia, but are a tool of destruction against the most innocent parties involved: citizens of these two nations.

The onus upon the Russian population is much easier to see and find. The collapse of the Ruble in 2014 made headlines around the world, and many industries had to quickly change and develop domestically in order to support Russians without European or American assistance. However, many Americans fail to realize the extent to which sanctions hurt the United States and, more importantly, the unsung victim and target of U.S. sanctions: Americans.

Effects on the United States

Sanctions are a double-edged sword. Not only do they hurt the economy of the sanctioned, but they also hurt the economy of the sanctioner. In 2015, trade with Russia was $23 billion, a drop of $11 million from the prior year.

Additionally, the glut of sanctions against not just Russia, but multiple other countries may create unintended consequences and hurt American economic interests – without even succeeding in changing the target’s behavior.

As the United States further strengthens its reliance on sanctions and aims to tighten its economic hold on its targets, other countries – both sanctioned and unsanctioned – will have to adapt their own policies to protect themselves and their people. For example, it would not be all too surprising if countries, firms or individuals created complicated business structures so as to prevent or minimize risk when involved with American businesses and individuals.

Visa and Mastercard have already fallen victim to such problems, having had to back out of transactions with sanctioned banks, re-route transactions through an entirely different system and then facing a Russian credit card competitor.

In the end, however, it is the common man who loses and who loses big.

The Cost for Americans

Businesspeople will point to the fact that the effects of sanctions can go beyond the targeted sector and individual, hurting Americans well outside the original sanctioned sphere. While the United States may have aimed to restrict business and trade with a particular company or individual, all too often, the effects of the sanction seep into other facets of the economy and diplomacy as the targeted country modifies its policies and approaches so as to keep itself afloat.

For Americans, this means reduced revenues for U.S. companies and individuals, loss of jobs for workers, as well as forfeited opportunities that mere statistics cannot measure. It also puts an unnecessary strain upon American ex-pats, tourists and students abroad, who then have to jump through hoops to complete even the most basic tasks related to banking and finance and visas.

And for Americans hoping to follow the American dream and start or expand businesses and work abroad, sanctions become a barrier to that dream. The moment a business account has a connection to Russia or another sanctioned country, banks stop wanting to have anything to do with the business. When the pinnacle of Americanism, which brought in valuable workers and people and has helped contribute to creating the world superpower of today, is put under scrutiny due to policies proven to be ineffective at best, there is a glaring problem.

The history of failure coupled with the factual and potential harm of sanctions to American citizens makes one thing clear: it is completely disingenuous to say that sanctions are done in the best interest of the United States and the international community. In truth, all they do is set up further barriers to democracy and economic prosperity.

Rachel Lloyd is a policy analyst at the Russian Public Affairs Committee (Ru-PAC).

This article was originally published with RT.