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, 2022-2023


    Hana Attia

    Doctoral Researcher


    Dr. Julia Grauvogel

    Senior Research Fellow / Research Team Spokesperson

    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’ 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’.

    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.

    Hana Attia

    Doctoral Researcher

    Dr. Julia Grauvogel

    Senior Research Fellow / Research Team Spokesperson

    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


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