At the time of writing, it is only six months since Joe Biden became President of the United States. Yet there is already one notable contrast between Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, that deserves more attention. In a nutshell, Trump promised an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy but couldn’t deliver. Biden is trying to overhaul it, only under the cloak of traditional language. Any attempt to fathom the behaviour of both leaders must navigate this mismatch between words and deeds.
Unfamiliar with sanctions issues, and accustomed to their capitals’ discreet use of this foreign policy tool, the European public follows sanctions-related headlines with some puzzlement. If the United Nations (UN) lifted sanctions on Tehran following the conclusion of the nuclear deal, why was it necessary to create a special vehicle for trade with Iran, the Instrument for Trade Exchanges (INSTEX)? If sanctions regimes are invariably endowed with provisions for humanitarian exemptions, why do humanitarian agencies struggle to get aid to places like Iran and Syria? Why are European banks like BNP Paribas fined with exorbitant penalties? As it turns out, these are manifestations of the same phenomenon, and Bryan Early and Keith Preble have the answer to these questions in the article under discussion here.
Richard Nephew’s The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field offers a refreshing perspective on the study of economic sanctions. It draws on the author’s experience as Director for Iran on the National Security Council and as deputy sanctions coordinator at the State Department in the Obama Administration. Having been involved in developing and managing sanctions during the negotiations with Iran that eventually produced the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, Nephew speaks from the point of view of a practitioner who brings a hands-on approach to the topic. The book offers practical insights about what sanctions can and cannot do, rather than ex cathedra statements about their efficacy in general. The most commonly asked question about sanctions—do they work?—is misleading because it is incomplete, since the utility of any tool can only be judged against a specific goal and under a determinate set of conditions. Against this, The Art of Sanctions presents a practice-oriented study of the preconditions for their success.
In 2016 President Barack Obama guided two United States efforts involving sanctions on two adversarial states, Fidel Castro’s Cuba since1960, and Iran over its development of nuclear power and potentially nuclear weapons. The first ended without success as Fidel and his brother Raoul Castro maintained control of Cuba despite the significant economic consequences of U.S. policies. The second ended in an agreement between Iran and an international coalition led by the U.S., Russia, China, and European states to stop Iran’s potential to develop a nuclear weapon for at least ten years. Despite some rhetoric from President Donald Trump, the agreement with Iran has been implemented and relations with Cuba have developed gradually with respect to tourism and trade if not complete diplomatic recognition.