The Termination of International Sanctions: Causes, Processes and Domestic Consequences

Dr. Julia Grauvogel
2018 - 2021
German Research Foundation (DFG)

Prof. Susan Allen, University of Mississippi, United States

Prof. Thomas J. Biersteker, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Switzerland

Prof. Michael Brzoska, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH), University of Hamburg, Germany

Prof. Katja B. Kleinberg, Binghamton University, United States



Research Questions

Research on sanctions has hitherto focused on their implementation and effectiveness, whereas the suspension or (partial) termination of such measures has received little attention, despite the issue’s practical significance. The precise reasons for ending international sanctions remain unclear, particularly as the process of lifting sanctions is characterised by a back and forth between easing external pressure, stagnation, and renewed intensification that is insufficiently captured in the literature. Moreover, research on the consequences of lifting sanctions is still in its infancy and predominantly confined to economic after-effects.

The project addresses the following research questions:

  • How can we capture the process of ending sanctions?
  • Why do sanctions end?
  • What are the consequences of lifting sanctions?

Contribution to International Research

Processes: In order to address the inadequate depiction of sanctions termination as single events, the project will provide a comprehensive overview of the processes surrounding the ending of sanctions. In doing so, it will disentangle the complex, multilevel decision-making and bargaining processes that lead to the suspension and/or lifting of the senders’ measures.

Causes: Thus far, potential reasons for the varying duration of sanctions, such as target-state vulnerability and goal compliance, have been examined separately. To systematically compare the divergent causes of sanctions termination, the project will develop an integrated explanatory framework. Based on this, the project will empirically analyse why sanctions end.

Consequences: Finally, the project will establish the political and economic consequences of ending sanctions for the targeted regimes. In this context, it seeks to understand how the signals conveyed by lifting external pressure affect the domestic political discourse within the targeted regimes.

Research Design and Methods

The project employs a multi-method research design. The creation of a dataset on the termination of sanctions and the subsequent Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) based on the dataset will serve to disentangle the complex processes of sanctions termination and to scrutinise the different paths leading to this outcome. The project will construct a new dataset on the termination of all UN, EU, US, and regional sanctions. Following a systematic integration of information that is already available in exiting datasets, legal documents and non-English news sources will be reviewed by means of content analysis to fill gaps in existing data collection efforts. Descriptive statistics based on the dataset will offer a systematic overview of how international sanctions end. Moreover, the dataset will provide the basis for the QCA conducted in the second step. QCA will be used to examine the causes of the ending of sanctions. The empirical results will serve as a basis to develop more complex explanations for the termination of sanctions that go beyond single causes and the assumption that what leads to the imposition of sanctions also inversely causes their termination.

Based on the QCA, case studies will be selected to examine the domestic consequences of ending external pressure, as these consequences most likely depend on the processes and causes of sanctions termination. To ensure cross-regional comparison, cases from different world regions will be chosen. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with key political elites from the regime and the opposition as well as with civil society actors. The interview material will be complemented by a narrative analysis that traces how the signals conveyed by lifting the external pressure affected the domestic political debate in the target state.