The Sanctions Blog at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy

March 12, 2015

By Richard Nephew


Welcome to what we hope will become an active conversation about the use of economic statecraft and -- more specifically -- sanctions to advance national policy, particularly as relates to energy markets.

Though it may strike some as incongruous, the connection between the study of global energy policy and sanctions could not be more important, timely and relevant. As the Center’s description of the program makes clear, energy has often been at the center of sanctions efforts. From Japan in the 1930s to Iraq in the 1990s to today in Iran and Russia, energy supplies have been one of the most targeted areas for sanctions in the modern era. Energy supplies are a foundational aspect of the modern state and economy and, as such, undermining a country’s ability to import energy (in many forms) can similarly undermine a country’s ability to provide essential services to its people, or -- indeed -- to make war. Similarly, given that energy products can also be highly lucrative, preventing a country from making money from its energy sector also has great value from a sanctions perspective, particularly in circumstances where a country is heavily dependent on this export revenue.

So, sanctions matter from the perspective of a global energy policy institution. But, for many seeking optimal energy sector balance and efficiencies, sanctions are hardly welcome tools. One could be forgiven for assuming that a center dedicated to the design of better global energy policies ought to focus its sanctions-related work on trying to get rid of them to the extent possible.

That is not the intent of this program. The Center approaches sanctions as neither good nor bad, but rather as facts of international policy that have an impact on energy markets. The Center believes that sanctions are an aspect of economic statecraft, but not the only one, and that a properly constituted economic approach to statecraft will involve a variety of tools, sanctions included. In this context, this program is intended to assess the effectiveness of sanctions as a tool and analyze its application in a variety of contexts in order to derive lessons for proponents and opponents of sanctions alike.

For government policymakers, this program will look at ways that sanctions have been used in the past and hope to improve their impact in the future.

For businesses, this program will provide information about sanctions in place, regimes being contemplated for the future, and recommendations on how to manage the impact that sanctions will have on business planning and operations.

For academics, this program will provide insights on the decisions that lead to sanctions, the effectiveness of them once in place, and the unintended consequences of their use.

And, for all audiences, this program will offer lessons on how to dismantle sanctions when they have outlived their usefulness.

The results of the program’s research will be published in a variety of ways. Some results may be presented as part of large reports, replete with data to substantiate the arguments being made. Other results will be conveyed in the form of discrete briefings on particular policies. In this blog, we will provide short analytical posts of some recent and -- to us and hopefully to you -- interesting findings from our overall work. The content will vary, from theoretical abstractions on how sanctions function -- or don’t -- to rebuttals of the many spurious claims that are made about sanctions, both in favor of them and denouncing them.

Future posts will include discussions of:

 - The effectiveness of sanctions and what “effective” means in this context;

 - The future of sanctions in a global economy;

 - US sanctions and questions of extraterritoriality; and,

 - Ways to improve the sanctions process and to bring new stakeholders into it.

Above all, this blog -- and, indeed, the overall work of the Center’s Program on Economic Statecraft, Sanctions, and Energy Markets -- will treat sanctions as they should be treated: as an instrument of policy, not its end result.

The Center welcomes your input and thoughts on the subject as we proceed. Sanctions are a modern tool about which much is understood, but far more is not or seen through biased lenses. Constructive reader input and feedback is desired, as are ideas about what to consider, research and discuss next. Your attention and interest is appreciated.


This views on this post are solely those of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of the Center on Global Energy Policy.