free trade, unilateral and economic trade sanctions

Myths vs. Realities...

Read what foreign policy experts are saying about the importance of international engagement, as USA*Engage sets the record straight about the high cost of U.S. unilateral sanctions.

The United States employs unilateral sanctions in a limited and highly targeted manner -- and only when other options have been exhausted.

U.S. unilateral economic sanctions -- those actions that serve to cut off trade and investment, make it harder to export American products, and discourage U.S. participation in economic development abroad -- have proliferated greatly since 1993.
  • The President's Export Council's latest report on sanctions lists 73 countries subjected to some form of unilateral U.S. sanction as of January 1997.
  • The National Association of Manufacturers' reports that 60 U.S. laws and executive actions were enacted authorizing unilateral sanctions from 1993 through 1996.
  • A Congressional Research Service report from January 1998 cites 125 measures authorizing U.S. unilateral economic sanctions targeting 30 countries.

While the definition of what constitutes a sanction may vary somewhat, the facts remain clear: In the last two years over 30 studies have been issued by well-respected think tanks of all ideological persuasions, trade associations and governmental organizations such as the International Trade Commission and the President's Export Council (PEC), on the issue of unilateral sanctions. All these studies share a common theme: that U.S. unilateral trade sanctions have been overused -- by Congress and the Executive Branch -- and that they are counterproductive, ineffective and often end up hurting U.S. interests more than the target country.

"Rarely, if ever is a careful and thoughtful analysis done of the costs and benefits of the proposed sanction or the likelihood of its altering the sanctioned behavior. In most instances, the issue is rushed to the Senate or House floor, so that the congress can express its outrage as some perceived misdeed that just appear in print or live on CNN. To the best of my knowledge there has never been any systematic effort on the part of the Congress to review sanctions once imposed, to consider whether they have achieved their objectives or have turned out to be counterproductive."

--Senator Chris Dodd, (D-CT), June 25, 1998

"These congressionally mandated sanctions are threatening to place American policy into a straitjacket. Some 73 nations and over half the world's population are now subject to American sanctions. And the fewest of our allies are following our lead."

--Henry A. Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, June 9, 1998


The use of unilateral sanctions can be justified because they are effective tools of foreign policy.

Unilateral sanctions, by definition, lack the broad multilateral support necessary to achieve success. History has proven that sanctions, when imposed unilaterally, are ineffective, counterproductive and often harmful to America's interests.
  • The Institute for International Economics reports that as of 1992 -- even before the 1993-96 surge in sanctions -- U.S. unilateral sanctions had been effective in achieving their goals less than 20 percent of the time.

"I think that we must do something about [the proliferation of sanctions]. Because sanctions that have no flexibility, no waiver authority are just blunt instruments; and diplomacy requires that we have some finesse."

--Madeleine K. Albright, U.S. Secretary of State June14, 1998

"Unilateral economic sanctions rarely succeed in altering the behavior of the country or countries against whom they are aimed; they do not always serve U.S. interests and may, in fact, inflict more harm on the U.S. than on the target country ..."
--Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), October 23, 1997

"The fact is, most of our sanctions have had a poor record of success. Few nations follow our course. And the people who have been hurt are not the sanctioned countries. The people are the workers in your states. The ones who have lost contracts to build airplanes, and helicopters, and automotive parts, and elevators to competitors in Japan and Europe."
--Secretary of Commerce William Daley, July 22, 1998

"Unfortunately, with few exceptions, sanctions very rarely work. In order for sanctions to be successful, the United States must -- absolutely must -- convince the entire rest of the world to join our boycott. Unless this occurs, the sanctioned country simply gets what it needs-- food, financing, etc.-- from the other countries that chose not to join the Sanctions Circle."
--Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), July 15, 1998


Regardless of their effectiveness, the United States has a moral obligation to utilize sanctions -- wherever and whenever necessary -- to promote democracy, human rights, and the values in which we believe.

The United States has an obligation to utilize its influence and implements of foreign policy in ways that will actually make a difference -- and not harm those we may be trying to help. Too often, unilateral sanctions are put in place to make us feel better about taking a stand, even if they are empty gestures in the end.
"The Council believes that sanctions of any kind should be a matter of thoughtful, last resort -- not automatic first resort -- and that they should only be imposed after consultation with the people in the area whom they are intended to help."
--Oliver Thomas, National Council of Churches Special Counsel for Religious Liberties (April 15, 1998)

"Sanctions can be a fairly broad, blunt instrument, they can actually cause quite a lot of widespread humanitarian hardship and they can actually work against some of the goals we want. If our goals is to promote human rights, democracy and so forth, as sanctions are often used to do, quite often they seem to reinforce authoritarian or dictatorial regimes ..."
--Richard Haass, Director of Foreign Studies, The Brookings Institution (December 3, 1997)


The business community is trying to have it both ways -- favoring trade sanctions that benefit business and agriculture, while opposing foreign policy sanctions.

There is a distinct difference between trade and foreign policy sanctions. Sanctions, when applied to further the U.S. trade agenda must adhere to a strict set of guidelines governed by trade pacts, or by the World Trade Organization. Unilateral foreign policy sanctions, on the other hand, can be applied for purely political purposes, and virtually without restraint.
"One of the most alarming aspects of U.S. sanctions policy is the weak information base on which most sanctions decisions are made. Several dozen laws authorize the President to impose sanctions of one kind or another. Virtually none of these laws require the President to assess the foreign policy, humanitarian, or domestic economic impact of a proposed sanction, before or after it is imposed. There is little opportunity for public comment. This is in contrast to our laws governing international trade disputes, which typically require an economic impact assessment and public comment before the President imposes any measures. Nor is Congressional review of foreign policy sanctions legislation systematic or comprehensive."
-- The Honorable Lee Hamilton, Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center, and former Congressman (February, 1999)


Legislation to exempt food and medicine from unilateral sanctions will fix the most serious problems faced by American exporters.

Exempting food and medicine from unilateral sanctions is an important step in the right direction, however, it does not fix the overall problem. While the health of U.S. agriculture is dependent on the ability to export its products -- it is also dependent on whether America is viewed as a reliable supplier. If a country is allowed to purchase U.S. wheat, but not farm machinery, the instability of the United States as a supplier is reinforced, and our ability to compete in the global market will continue to suffer.

"It has been well documented that unilateral trade sanctions are sanctions against U.S. exports and destroy our reputation as reliable suppliers...Markets were not easy to develop and are even more difficult to win back when our customers see the United States as an unreliable supplier... ...when any type of sanction or embargo is imposed, or threatened, either political or economic, agriculture is the first industry to be targeted in retaliation."

--William Sprague, President, Kentucky Farm Bureau (September 9, 1998)


"Engagement" is really only a term coined by business interests seeking to profit in countries that America should continue to isolate.

Democracy and human rights are strongly associated with free markets, open trade and investment, and rising living standards. American economic engagement helps increase incomes and empower the middle class. Americans also bring with them American values -- the inherent worth of the individual, freedom, and the rule of law. By exporting, investing and operating overseas -- engaging -- American businesses and farmers promote freedom.
"We can only preserve our security and our well-being at home by being strongly involved in the world beyond our borders."
-- President Bill Clinton, 1997

"The freer the flow of world trade, the stronger the tides of human progress and peace among nations."

-- President Ronald Reagan, 1985


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