Chapter Three: Types Of Sanctions

Types of Sanctions

Sanctions are powerful political measures designed to swiftly respond to a wide range of geopolitical challenges and developments. They are strategically employed to address critical issues such as terrorism, the unlawful annexation of foreign territories, nuclear proliferation, human rights violations, intentional destabilization of sovereign nations, and cyber-attacks. The nature of sanctions varies significantly; they can differ based on their geographical scope and specific targets, which may include individuals, entities, or commercial operations. This variability allows for tailored responses to diverse global threats and transgressions. In this article, we will dive into the types of sanctions, examine the rationales behind them, and explore some concrete, practical examples.

There are two axes of analysis when defining the types of sanctions: horizontal and vertical. We will explore these types one by one.

Horizontally, sanctions can be divided into different categories based on their focus. They can include, among others, economic, diplomatic, military, and various types of sanctions.

Let us explore them in more detail:

Economic Sanctions

Economic sanctions target a state’s financial and commercial operations to apply substantial pressure for policy or action changes deemed unacceptable by the international community. These sanctions may encompass asset freezes, the establishment of trade barriers, limitations on access to global banking systems, and bans on investments in crucial economic sectors. Such measures can affect a nation’s participation in international markets, potentially resulting in inflation, a shortage of goods, and economic difficulties for its citizens.

Trade Sanctions

Trade sanctions are forms of restrictions aimed at specific facets of international trade. They can either function as a component of broader economic sanctions or operate independently as a restrictive measure. Commonly, these sanctions impose limitations on activities such as importing, exporting, transiting, transferring, or acquiring various goods and technologies. Furthermore, they may also apply to brokering services and other activities connected to the items under sanction.

Diplomatic Sanctions

Diplomatic sanctions encompass a variety of actions taken to convey disapproval or apply pressure within the realm of international relations. These actions typically involve restricting or canceling high-level government visits and may also include expelling or recalling diplomatic missions or personnel. To exert further influence, governments might restrict the travel of their officials, limit the number of diplomatic staff permitted in a country, or diminish the level of diplomatic representation. These sanctions can also involve curtailing diplomatic activities and access to bank accounts, which are crucial for diplomatic interactions. Additionally, they may lead to the suspension of formal scientific and technical cooperation, affecting joint projects and research initiatives.

Military Sanctions

Military sanctions, such as arms embargoes, no-fly zones, and direct interventions, target a nation’s or group’s military capabilities. They aim to prevent or halt military actions. For example, arms embargoes restrict the sale and transfer of weaponry, directly impacting a nation’s military strength. A practical instance of this is the United Nations’ embargo on North Korea, which limits the country’s access to weapons and military equipment, aiming to curtail its military advancements.

Sanctions Targeted At Individuals

Sanctions targeted at individuals typically involve measures such as asset freezes, travel bans, and prohibitions on doing business with entities in the sanctioning country. These are aimed at specific people who are considered responsible for actions against international norms, such as government officials, business leaders, or other influential figures. A practical example is the sanctions targeted at individuals is the measures imposed by the United States on Venezuelan government officials, including President Nicolás Maduro, in response to allegations of human rights violations and undermining of democracy.

Sanctions can also be classified vertically, based on geographic distribution, into three categories: international, regional, and national.

International sanctions are those enacted by global bodies with the authority to create binding legal texts. A prime example is the United Nations Security Council, whose resolutions often carry binding obligations for UN member states. Within the UN framework, sanctions can be further subdivided into various types:

  • Sanctions enforcing compliance with international law, such as those imposed on Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (Resolution 661).
  • Measures aimed at containing threats to peace within specific regions, exemplified by the 2010 Iran nuclear proliferation issue.
  • Sanctions that condemn actions or policies of a member or non-member country, like the measures against Rhodesia following its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965.

Regional sanctions are coordinated within regional entities, like the European Union. These may include:

  • Implementation of UN sanctions into EU law.
  • Enhanced UN sanctions, where the EU adopts stricter measures, as seen in its approach to the DPRK.
  • Independent sanctions regimes, for instance, those against Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine, and Russia.

National sanctions, on the other hand, serve to augment international or regional sanctions but must not contradict any binding legal texts from higher levels. For instance, if both the UN and EU sanction a particular country, individual EU member states, such as Germany, cannot independently lift these sanctions. However, they can impose more stringent controls. Thus, moving from the international to the national level, sanctions can only become more restrictive, not more lenient.

As this article illustrates, the complexity and diversity of sanctions reflect their crucial role in maintaining global order and upholding international law. Whether addressing human rights violations, curbing military escalations, or responding to cyber-attacks, sanctions are a testament to the international community’s commitment to peace, security, and justice. Their strategic deployment and careful calibration underscore the delicate balance in global diplomacy, highlighting the challenges and the potential of sanctions as international governance instruments.

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