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Thomas J. Biersteker, Sue E. Eckert, and Marcos Tourinho. Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 421.

Reviewed by: Eunsook Chung (Department of Security Strategy Studies, The Sejong Institute)

The Targeted Sanctions: The Impacts and Effectiveness of United Nations Action evaluates the impact and effectiveness of targeted sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN) since 1991 in a systematic, comparative, and comprehensive way. The book is edited by three renowned scholars on sanctions, Thomas J. Biersteker, Sue E. Eckert, and Marcos Tourinho. It assesses all of the 23 targeted sanctions regimes in the past 25 years and delivers new empirical information about a range of themes pertinent to the study of the UN’s targeted sanctions.

The book is a collaborative endeavor of the Targeted Sanction Consortium (TSC) research team, which draws on TSC’s databases. The broad analytical framework and datasets – quantitative and qualitative – that the authors utilize have been prepared by the TSC’s research team, which was co-directed by the editors of this book.

Security Council meeting: The situation in the Middle East. Letter dated 22 January 2016 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen established pursuant to Security Council resolution 2140 (2014) addressed to the President of the Security Council (S/2016/73) VOTE 15-0-0

The Security Council Extends Yemen Sanctions Regime. photo credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Since the 1990s, improving effectiveness of targeted sanctions has been on the agenda of scholars and policy practitioners that examined sanctions. At the time, the UN has moved away from comprehensive economic sanctions that had inflicted devastating humanitarian consequences on the innocent population, as seen in the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990. Accordingly, books and articles on the UN’s targeted sanctions have increased in the 21st century. Smart Sanctions: Restructuring UN Policy in Iraq (2001) (David Cortright et al, 2001), and Sanctions as Grand Strategy (Peter Wallensteen et al, 2012), for instance, take up the issue of advancing UN targeted sanctions.

Compared to comprehensive sanctions, targeted sanctions, often called smart sanctions, are more complex in design, implementation, and assessment. Targeted sanctions have posed a challenge to the capacity and legitimacy of the UN’s Security Council. In an attempt to enhance the UN’s targeted sanctions, the three editors of the volume contributed to three processes launched by the governments of Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden – Interlaken process of effective financial sanctions (1998-1999,) Bonn-Berlin process on travel bans, aviation sanctions, and arms embargoes (1999-2000), and Stockholm Process on implementing targeted sanctions (2002). I am sure their personal experience, as well as the lessons learned from these three processes, have positively influenced TSC’s research design. The editors have been involved in the development of the TSC’s database since 2011 and three chapters of the volume are written by them. In their respective chapters, they explain the background of the TSC research, frameworks of analysis, methodology, and they provide a conclusion with findings and recommendations.

The book’s contribution has two broad aspects: first, it uses an innovative methodology and newly developed datasets; second, it provides insightful analysis and develops policy implications for improving effectiveness of the UN’s targeted sanctions.

Methodologically, the book utilizes extensive databases and analytical frameworks, which are distinctive from a conventional approach to targeted sanctions. This volume adopts a thematic approach and not an individual country-study approach. All 23 of UN’s targeted sanctions regimes since 1991 were divided into 63 case episodes for comparative analysis. Subsequently, these individual episodes were coded into 296 variables, ranging from measures of political will in the Security Council to the different evasion tactics used by the targeted countries. The book assesses the effectiveness of targeted sanctions based on a policy outcome and on a contribution of the UN’s sanctions to that outcome. As stressed by Francesco Giumelli, targeted sanctions have three different purposes – not only coercion, which is still prevalent in public discourse, but also constraint, and signaling. Political objectives of targeted sanctions are divided into nine categories, relating to armed conflict, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, democracy supporting, etc. The book identifies six different kinds of targeted sanctions: individual/entity sanctions, diplomatic sanctions, arms embargoes, commodity sanctions, transportation sanctions, and core economic sanctions, which include financial sanctions.

The three appendices in the concluding chapter, co-authored by the editors, allow readers to understand the analyses made in the book’s chapters. Appendix 1 provides a list of 23 country case studies and 63 episodes, including their different objectives, types, and targets. Appendix 2 evaluates criteria for effectiveness, that include coding decisions on each of the 63 episodes; and Appendix 3 provides the TSC’s database codebook on 296 variables.

With regard to policy implications, the book produces valuable findings and recommendations on the basis of the TSC’s data for improving effectiveness of the UN’s targeted sanctions. In other words, in each chapter, the overarching analytical framework and scrupulous methodology and datasets are well utilized in accordance with the themes relevant to the effectiveness of the UN’s targeted sanctions. Most importantly, the co-editors observe that the UN’s targeted sanctions are effective, on average, 22% of the time. When these sanctions are broken into the three types of purposes, they are much more effective in constraining (27%) and signaling (27%) than coercing (10%). The editors also noticed that 59% of the UN’s targeted sanctions episodes are primarily associated with an armed conflict, followed by counter-terrorism (14%), nonproliferation (11%), democratic support (10%), among others.

Peter Wallensteen notes that the effectiveness of sanctions tends to increase over time with institutional learning that has taken place in the UN processes. This does not mean everyone will be satisfied with the results. Rather, Enrico Carisch, Loraine Rickard-Martin, Alix Boucher, and Caty Clement argue that greater technical skills and expertise, as well as greater coordination between the UN’s sanctions committees and other UN bodies, is still required. Michael Brzoska and George A. Lopez find a paradox in that unanimity on the Security Council does not necessarily result in effective sanctions. Kimberly Ann Elliott discusses the challenges of keeping targeted sanctions targeted. Mikael Eriksson examines data according to different types of unintended consequences, including some of the counter-intuitive findings from the quantitative database. Contextually, most of the UN’s targeted measures have been imposed along with other policy instruments and/or measures imposed by non-UN actors. Paul Bentall examines interaction between the UN’s targeted sanctions, peacekeeping, use of force, and legal referrals. Andrea Charron and Clara Portela find division of labor between the UN and regional organizations, such as the African Union and European Union.

I think that the book will greatly contribute to the evolution of popular discourse, and policy discussions. The scholarly community quietly urges the readers to recognize a significant transformation of the UN’s action since 1991, as the UN moved away from comprehensive sanctions. In doing so, The Targeted Sanctions motivates further research and shapes policy recommendations aimed to enhance effectiveness of the UN’s target sanctions. In particular, I must not forget to mention the appendices and many other tables and figures provided in each chapter of the volume, the degrees of which are unprecedented in the studies on UN’s targeted sanctions. They represent the dedication of the TSC’s research team.

Portrait of SG

United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. photo credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

However, as discussed in the book, a careful approach is required, when we employ TSC’s databases in our analysis. Researchers need to consider the uniqueness of each of the UN’s sanctions regimes, a small number of cases, and the use of variables that often make generalization difficult. Yet, the nature of these limitations are predictable and unavoidable. I think that the findings and recommendations, as well as methodological frameworks, presented in the book will surely provide a better understanding and assessment of the effectiveness of the UN’s targeted sanctions for the readers.

Today, all of the UN’s sanctions are targeted sanctions. These sanctions are to be implemented by the 193 member states, allowing them to be the only universal mandatory measures to support international peace and to address security challenges. In this context, I think that the book should be widely read and recommended to scholars and policy-makes, since the subject matter is of the utmost importance especially in today’s environment of continuing challenges that threaten international peace and security. This book should also be highly recommended to students who study international politics and the UN.