Sanctions Termination in Times of Crises: Unpacking the Role of External Shocks

  • In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General called for the easing of sanctions against Iran in response to COVID-19. Hence, external shocks are potentially related to sanctions termination. Yet, the effect of different types of external shocks such as pandemics, natural disasters, and economic crises on the (gradual) removal of sanctions has not been systematically studied. This project examines when and how external shocks affect sanctions termination through a nested research design combining new data collection, statistical analyses, and two case studies.
    DFG, 2022-2024

    Logo of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
    Logo of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

    Research Questions

    Sanctions senders’ calculations about whether and when to lift coercive measures can be fundamentally altered by external shocks, as current debates about ending sanctions in times of the pandemic illustrate. This project aims to examine whether and how external shocks such as financial crises, natural disasters or the COVID-19 pandemic affect the termination of sanctions. In doing so, it asks two interrelated questions:
    - Do sanctions senders (gradually) lift sanctions in response to external shocks?
    - Or do they turn to other foreign policy tools when external shocks make sanctions too costly or indefensible on humanitarian grounds?

    Contribution to International Research

    The issue of sanctions relief constitutes an important yet under-researched part of the sanctioning process. The ongoing DFG project on the termination of sanctions has played an important role in closing this gap in the literature. But research on how external shocks affect the use and termination of sanctions is still in its infancy, not least because limited existing large-N data has constricted researchers’ ability to capture the gradual adaptation of sanctions under such circumstances. Moreover, many studies have considered sanctions as an isolated foreign policy tool. As a result, their use and relation to other foreign policy tools – particularly in times of crises – remains unclear.

    To address these gaps in the literature, the project makes two major contributions. Theoretically, the project will develop a coherent analytical framework that brings together disparate arguments on how economic and humanitarian considerations influence the potential removal of sanctions. Empirically, it will investigate how different types of external shocks affect processes of (gradual) sanctions termination and the use of alternative foreign policy tools as substitutes or complements.

    Research Design and Methods

    The project employs a nested research design consisting of three steps: a dataset extension, advanced large-N analyses and two case studies. To be able to capture the potential effect of the current pandemic, the project team will extend the novel ‘International Sanctions Termination’ (IST) dataset, which currently covers the time frame from 1990 to 2018, for the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. The statistical analysis will consist of a range of logistic regressions that investigate the effect of different external shocks on sanctions termination and on the use of alternative foreign policy tools such as mediation and military intervention. Two follow-up case studies, relying on interviews and media analyses, will unravel the underlying causal mechanisms. The case studies will examine sender decision-making on sanctions during the Covid-19 pandemic, which offers a unique opportunity to study foreign policy responses to external shocks in ‘real time’.

    Preliminary Findings

    The updated IST dataset shows a number of sanctions termination decisions in 2020. We question whether these sanctions were lifted in response COVID-19, which constituted significant external shock and humanitarian crises, but find no support for this claim for two main reasons: First, the upward trend in sanctions termination in 2020 decreases directly afterwards, while at the same time a wave of new sanctions were imposed in 2021 when COVID-19 still constituted a significant source of vulnerability for many target states. Second, many of the sanctions terminated in these two years were restrictive measures against individuals that are less likely to be lifted in response to humanitarian concerns as opposed to, for example, sectoral or aid sanctions.

    However, we identified other adjustment strategies by the senders in form of humanitarian exemptions and general licenses that were issued in 2020 and 2021 to temporarily ease sanctions that can be directly attributed to the pandemic. We have found similar results when investigating other historical sanctions cases. The embargo against Saddam Houssein’s government was not terminated in response to humanitarian concerns. Instead, sanctions exemptions programs were created to mitigate the humanitarian crises while keeping the UN sanctions in place.

    International Studies Quarterly | 06/2023

    Monitoring the Monitor? Selective Responses to Human Rights Transgressions

    This paper investigates whether sanctions based on standardized human rights assessments are also influenced by senders’ strategic political and economic interests.

    Journal of Peace Research | 08/2022

    International Sanctions Termination, 1990–2018: Introducing the IST Dataset

    We introduce the International Sanctions Termination (IST) dataset that captures all EU, UN, US and regional sanctions between 1990 – 2018. We describe the data collection process, discuss IST’s compatibility with existing datasets, introduce new variables that focus on the design of sanctions and explore how they affect their termination.

    Friedensgutachten | 06/2022

    Nur Mittel zum Zweck: Erfolgsbedingungen von Sanktionen

    Sanktionen sind neben Verhandlungen eine zentrale Alternative zum Waffengang, um Völkerrechtsverletzungen zu begegnen. Oftmals werden sie aber verhängt, ohne Bedingungen für ihren Erfolg zu formulieren. Eine Neuorientierung der deutschen und europäischen Sanktionspolitik ist überfällig.

    Dr. Pascal Abb

    Prof. Dr. Michael Brzoska

    Prof. Dr. Christopher Daase

    Prof. Dr. Nicole Deitelhoff

    Anton Peez

    Conference | 05/11/2023 - 07/11/2023

    A Story of Exemptions rather than Termination: Humanitarian Crises and the Lifting of International Sanctions

    IHSA Conference on Humanitarian Studies, Online Event and Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dhaka Organisers: International Humanitarian Studies Association Dr. Julia Grauvogel (Speaker), Dr. Hana Attia (Speaker)

    COVID-19 did not significantly alter decisions related to the termination of sanctions in the years 2020 and 2021. There, are however, other temporary adjustment strategies by the senders in form of humanitarian exemptions and general licenses that were issued during these two years.

    Sanctions in the 21st Century: Current Debates and Future Trajectories

    Workshop | 01/06/2023 - 02/06/2023

    Sanctions in the 21st Century: Current Debates and Future Trajectories

    Sanctions in the 21st Century: Current Debates and Future Trajectories, Berlin Dr. Hana Attia (Panelist), Dr. Julia Grauvogel (Panelist)

    The sanctions imposed on Russia over the war against Ukraine have once again fueled academic and policy debates about the success and limitations of the instrument. Sanctions have developed into one of the most popular foreign policy tools for addressing international challenges such as armed conflicts, human rights violations, and terrorism. Research has long examined their use and effectiveness. While this work has yielded important insights, it tended to draw on data and theories that do not sufficiently capture changes in how sanctions are perceived, designed, enforced, and lifted in the 21st century. This workshop brings together papers that empirically explore and conceptually discuss the full life cycle of sanctions, covering key aspects of their onset, implementation, and termination. It covers contemporary trends in the use of this popular measure of economic coercion that carry important implications for the current sanctions against Russia and beyond.