Thomas J. Biersteker, Sue E. Eckert, Marcos Tourinho, eds. Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 422 pp. $34.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-107-59309-1; $99.99 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-107-13421-8.
Reviewed by Bryan R. Early (University at Albany, State University of New York)
Published on H-Diplo (December, 2016)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)
The book Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action constitutes essential reading for scholars and policymakers interested in understanding why the United Nations (UN) imposes sanctions, the factors affecting their success, and the myriad of externalities with which they are associated. The volume makes an important contribution to the empirical study of targeted sanctions by introducing the new Targeted Sanctions Consortium (TSC) data set that tracks the UN’s involvement in imposing sanctions in 23 country-based sanctions regimes across 296 variables from 1991 to 2014. All of the book’s chapters draw on this new data source in some way, but a significant number of the chapters go further in discussing the global governance issues associated with the adoption and implementation of UN sanctions. Readers of this volume will thus gain general insights into when the UN employs targeted sanctions and the consequences they have, but also learn more about the processes and politics associated with their use.
After highlighting the major contributions made by the volume in the next section, I shift to offering some critical perspective on the TSC data introduced within the book and how it was analyzed. The goal of this discussion is not to provide a full critique of the TSC data set, but rather to highlight how its design could be adversely influencing some of the conclusions drawn within the volume. Since so many new and policy-relevant conclusions can be drawn from this book, a careful weighing of what inferences can be appropriately drawn from the data it employs is needed. Even with some of the reservations I express, I still think there is an enormous amount to learn from this volume.
Targeted Sanctions makes a number of notable contributions to the economic statecraft and global governance literatures, with many—but not all—of the book’s insights stemming from analyses of the new TSC data set. The justification for creating a new data set that focuses explicitly on the UN’s targeted sanctions would appear to be threefold. First, the volume’s contributors consider targeted sanctions to be fundamentally different than comprehensive sanctions. Second, there are specific things about the UN’s use of targeted sanctions that differentiate them from broader economic sanctions in terms of the process by which they are adopted, the universal compliance obligations they create, and the institutional mechanisms that exist to facilitate their implementation. Finally, existing sanctions data sets, like the Economic Sanctions Reconsidered data set and the Threat and Imposition of Economic Sanctions (TIES) data set, were not designed to capture specific information about how the UN adopts and implements targeted sanctions that could be central to understanding their form, function, and consequences. This book’s contributors thus treat UN targeted sanctions as distinct phenomena requiring original explanations rather than just as a subcategory of economic sanctions that can be lumped together with more comprehensive variants of sanctions. According to this perspective, an entirely new data set for UN targeted sanctions was needed to understand their use and consequences. It is also notable that the TSC’s participants directly engaged with UN experts in coding the data set, which likely contributed to both the data’s accuracy and imparted insider knowledge to the project’s contributors that goes beyond the numerical data found in the data set.
The TSC’s creators made a number of critical design choices that deviate from how previous sanctions data sets were constructed. One critical choice relates to the effort to gain more units of observation by breaking down the UN’s 23 country-based sanctions regimes into 63 “case episodes.” Case episodes are defined as “periods in which the sanctions regime remains stable in terms of purposes, types, targets, and context” (p. 17). According to the book’s editors, breaking down the sanctions regimes into distinct case episodes allows the data set to capture how country-based sanctions regimes’ goals, policy provisions, and consequences changed over time. This has the effect of almost tripling the number of distinct observations in the data set, adding to the nuance potentially captured by the discreet observations within the data. The TSC data set captures 296 distinct variables across the 63 case episodes, which includes information on the factors contributing to the passage of the UN’s targeted sanctions and information about the sanctions’ goals, how they were implemented, what effects they had, and whether they succeeded.
The TSC data set also adopts a more complex approach to assessing the efficacy of the UN’s targeted sanctions by distinguishing between goals focused on coercion, constraint, and signaling (see Francesco Giumelli, Coercing, Constraining, and Signaling, 2011). According to Francesco Giumelli’s chapter, UN targeted sanctions can be adopted with multiple goals in mind that can be obtained in whole or in part. Coercive goals focus on changing their targets’ behavior. Constraint-based goals focus on limiting their targets’ access to critical resources. Signaling norms are imposed to “publically assert the target’s deviation from an international norm, producing at the same time an articulation or reframing of the norm and a statement of its practical applicability in that case” (p. 21). Adopting this approach emphasizes how targeted sanctions can fulfill important objectives beyond just coercing their targets. One of the interesting insights offered in the volume is that while UN targeted sanctions are effective in coercing their targets only 10 percent of the time, they succeed in placing meaningful constraints upon their target 27 percent of the time and signaling norms violations 27 percent of the time (p. 32).
A number of the volume’s chapters rely heavily on the TSC data as part of their analysis. The chapter by Michael Brzoska and George Lopez, for example, leverages the new data to analyze patterns in the types of targeted sanctions that the UN Security Council adopts. This chapter provides useful insights into the politics and priorities of the decision-making body responsible for the sanctions adopted by the UN. Paul Bentall examines the relationship between the UN Security Council’s use of targeted sanctions and other policy measures to achieve political objectives vis-à-vis specific states. Kimberly Ann Elliot analyzes the political, economic, and psychological impacts of economic sanctions across the 64 case episodes. She finds that these impacts are almost never sufficient on their own to be associated with the effectiveness of sanctions, but do tend to be more associated with successful outcomes when all three impacts are present. Mikael Eriksson analyzes the various unintended consequences with which targeted sanctions are associated. The TSC data suggest that UN targeted sanctions are still associated with a number of adverse political, economic, and humanitarian consequences despite arguments that such sanctions help avoid those externalities. Eriksson’s chapter notably misses a critical opportunity to engage with the findings from the general sanctions literature about the adverse effects sanctions have on their targets’ citizen, to put the TSC data in comparative perspective. Finally, Thomas Biersteker, Sue Eckert, and Marcos Tourinho provide an analysis of the factors correlated with the effectiveness of UN targeted sanctions at coercing, constraining, and signaling. One potential issue raised by their analyses is the TSC data set includes almost as many potential explanations for the factors associated with the success of UN targeted sanctions as there are actual observations within the data set. This chapter does a good job in engaging the broader sanctions literature and comparing the findings from the TSC to other sanctions data sources.
Other chapters within the volume draw on the TSC data more in a supporting role in exploring aspects about the UN’s implementation of targeted sanctions. In one of the most interesting chapters of the book, Alix Boucher and Caty Clement discuss the relationship between UN sanctions and other bodies within the UN. The chapter examines how the bodies (such as the Panel of Experts) created to support the implementation of economic sanctions interact with other bodies like the Financial Action Task Force and peacekeeping missions. In a related chapter, Enrico Carisch and Loraine Rickard-Martin provide an in-depth analysis of how UN sanctions are implemented. This chapter provides institutional perspective on the challenges the UN faces in obtaining its member states’ cooperation in adopting the targeted sanctions it mandates. Lastly, Peter Wallensteen provides an excellent chapter on how institutional learning can play a role in the evolution of the sanctions regimes imposed against specific countries. Notably, Wallensteen observes that the UN Security Council’s sanctions regimes do appear to improve over time—with later case episodes in country sanctions regimes being associated with higher levels of effectiveness than the initial case episodes. Together, these chapters provide a number of valuable insights into the global governance of UN sanctions that illuminate the process by which UN sanctions are implemented and evolve over time. While the core contribution of the book stems from analyzing the TSC data set, many chapters provide a depth of insights into the UN’s use of targeted sanctions that go far beyond what the data set alone can provide.
Overall, the volume provides a set of unique insights into the UN’s targeted sanctions that greatly expands on what past qualitative analyses and quantitative studies using general sanctions data sets have revealed. It is evident that the authors have a strong understanding of the substance and politics undergirding the TSC data. The best chapters within the book meld insider knowledge and general evidence from the TSC data in order to support their arguments. This combination is particularly effective in shedding light on the UN’s special role in adopting and supporting the implementation of multilateral targeted sanctions. While there have been past efforts at explaining how international organizations can facilitate sanctions cooperation, none of them go into nearly as much detail about the role that organizations actually play in supporting sanctioning efforts. What distinguishes this book even more than its focus on targeted sanctions is its illumination of the global governance of multilateral sanctions.
While I have some criticisms about the TSC data set’s design that I share below, the data set undoubtedly represents a valuable new scholarly resource. It contains granular detail on the design, adoption, and supporting mechanisms of UN sanctions at a level unmatched by any other sanctions data sets. The sanctions episode case summaries that complement the TSC data set should also prove to be a valuable resource for scholars. A key motivation for collecting the TSC data set was to introduce more rigor and empirical evidence into debates about the UN’s role in using sanctions to further the interests of the international community. The volume clearly demonstrates that a lot can be learned from systematically analyzing the UN’s track record of using targeted sanctions and, hopefully, those insights can productively inform future scholarly and policy debates.
Even though there is a lot to praise about Targeted Sanctions and the potential contributions of TSC data set, I have a number of concerns about how the TSC’s design could have adversely affected some of the book’s analyses. The volume’s contributors briefly discuss the rationale for disaggregating country-based sanctions regimes into case episodes, but they do not fully address the potential problems associated with that as their primary unit of analysis for studying targeted sanctions. The sixty-three case episodes are not independent of one another even if the data suggest that there is variation within the case episodes coded for each country-based sanctions regime. This poses numerous challenges for scholars seeking to use the data in statistical analyses, but also biases how descriptive statistics, cross-tabulations, and “correlational observations” can be interpreted (p. 20). The approach adopted by the TSC’s creators introduces potential bias into summary analyses because it gives more weight to certain types of sanctions regimes in the data set. A key reason why the UN Security Council resorts to multiple rounds of targeted sanctions provisions according to Wallensteen’s analysis is that the initial packages of targeted sanctions fail to work. Thus, country-based sanctions regimes in which the UN Security Council initially adopted ineffective measures are likely to produce greater numbers of distinct case episodes within the TSC data set. Some country-based sanctions regimes, like the cases of Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, and Sierra Leonne (five case episodes apiece), will thus be more strongly represented within the data than others based upon the initial quality of the targeted sanctions packages the UN Security Council imposed. As the graphic on p. 19 illustrates, some country-based sanctions regimes are disproportionately in the TSC data set.
The fact that case episodes are interlinked will also affect inferences that can be drawn about the decisions the UN Security makes in adopting sanctions. How the UN Security Council crafts its inaugural targeted sanctions package against a country is very different from the situation that the body confronts in revising pre-existing sanctions regimes. Policy decisions made by the UN Security Council in the first round of targeted sanctions imposed against a country are likely to persist even if the sanctions are subsequently revised or expanded—an action that can trigger the TSC data set to code a new case episode observation. This means that TSC data may be inflating the prevalence of certain policies or outcomes simply because the UN Security Council revised some of its sanctions policies while leaving others on the books. Once the UN Security Council empowers the creation of the Panel of Experts to aid in monitoring a sanctions regime, for example, it is highly unlikely to eliminate that body in subsequent case episodes. While the TSC data set’s coding approach allows for such trends to be observed, that approach also potentially interferes with accurate inferences being made from descriptive statistics that treat all case episodes as independent and functionally equivalent.
Within case dependence is also critical problem in assessing the unintended consequences of economic sanctions. If initial case episodes have the effect of raising corruption levels, fostering sanctions-busting relationships, or encouraging regimes to become more repressive or authoritarian, those effects are very likely to persist into subsequent case episodes. It follows that the descriptive statistics involving the unintended consequences of targeted sanctions may be overinflated when assessed using case episodes as the unit of analysis as opposed to country-based sanctions regimes. Indeed, Eriksson notes that most of the unintended consequences observed in the TSC data are present from the very first case episodes in a country-based sanctions regime. It is also a potential problem that case episodes vary significantly in terms of low long they last (p. 19). Obviously, longer case episodes are more likely to generate externalities than very short ones. Comparing unintended consequences using country-based sanctions regimes as the unit of analysis as opposed to case episode would thus appear to be the more appropriate strategy.
My criticisms all run counter to the basic “methodological assumption” invoked in most of the volume’s chapters “that each episode can be treated as independent from the previous ones in the same case” (p. 251). They suggest that disaggregating country-based sanctions regimes into case episodes does not provide additional analytical leverage in some cases and that not all case episodes are functionally equivalent to one another. While the TSC data set offers greater nuance with the use of case episodes as its unit of analysis, the book lacks a full discussion of the tradeoffs and potential pitfalls associated with how the data can be appropriately leveraged. This does not mean that data within the TSC are wrong or that they cannot yield valuable, policy-relevant insights. Wallensteen’s analysis of how learning takes place over the sequence of case episodes in a country-based sanctions regime is a great example of how the data’s structure can be effectively analyzed. Rather, my concern is that the descriptive statistics leveraged in numerous chapters could be misleading and that readers are not provided with a critical perspective to aid in judging the inferences that various contributors draw from the TSC data set. Readers should thus take a critical view of the descriptive statistics and cross-tabulation tables provided throughout the volume and think through whether the TSC data set’s structure may be influencing the inferences that could be drawn from them.
Despite these criticisms, Targeted Sanctions makes new and important contributions to the study of targeted sanctions and the UN Security Council’s role in using them to advance the international community’s interests. The new TSC data set introduced within the book has the potential to be a great scholarly resource, but the way it is structured does pose challenges to its analysis. At the very least, readers should be careful about cherry-picking figures from the numerous tables in the book without giving careful thought as to how the TSC’s coding approach could be influencing them. Notably, though, most of the volume’s chapters go far beyond just describing the TSC data and instead provide broader insights into the processes by which the UN adopts and implements targeted sanctions. This is a book informed by insider knowledge of how the UN operates, which comes across strongly in many of the chapters. Both scholars and policymakers who work on sanctions-related issues should read this book, as there is a lot to learn from the book and potentially a whole lot more to be learned from the data set it introduces.
. Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott, Kimberly A. Elliott, and Barbara Oegg, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy (Washington, DC: Patterson Institute for International Economics, 2007); T. Clifton Morgan, Navin Bapat, and Yoshiharu Kobayashi, “Threat and imposition of economic sanctions 1945–2005: Updating the TIES Dataset.” Conflict Management and Peace Science 31, no. 5 (2014): 541-558.
. For example, see Lisa Martin, Coercive Cooperation: Explaining Multilateral Economic Sanctions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992); Daniel Drezner, “Bargaining, Enforcement, and Multilateral Sanctions: When Is Cooperation Counterproductive?” International Organization 54, no. 1 (2000): 73-102; Navin Bapat and Clifton Morgan, “Multilateral versus Unilateral Sanctions Reconsidered: A Test Using New Data,” International Studies Quarterly 53, no. 4 (2009): 1075-7094; and Bryan R. Early and Robert Spice, “Economic Sanctions, International Institutions, and Sanctions Busters: When Does Institutionalized Cooperation Help Sanctioning Efforts?” Foreign Policy Analysis 11, no. 3 (2015): 339-360.
. Within the TSC data set, that only occurred between the fourth and fifth episodes of the Sierra Leonne targeted sanctions regime.
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Bryan R. Early. Review of Biersteker, Thomas J.; Eckert, Sue E.; Tourinho, Marcos, eds., Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action.
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