Technical in nature and scope, and with the potential of disrupting entire economies, sanctions are often deployed as biting tools of foreign policy, wielded as weapons against states to alter the latter’s behaviour. The past century has seen various forms of sanctions be imposed on countries to achieve a variety of results – all with the view of severely disrupting the sanctioned state’s economy. In doing so, sanctioning states (those imposing sanctions) are able to achieve results such as coercing the sanctioned states to oblige by their international obligations, etc.
Over the years, the variety of instruments used under the ambit of sanctions has increased multifold. The practice of sanctions has also evolved in character – moving beyond embargoes and blanket bans to more targeted measures focusing on specific sectors or even individuals. The avenues through which sanctions are imposed have also been changed, with multilateral and unilateral channels all now capable of imposing sanctions.
Sanctions today, are wide-ranging and nebulous, and thus require delineation and clarity. The purpose of this brief is to define the various kinds of sanctions available, as well as discuss some of the existing sanctions regimes in terms of design and impact. These include explaining the differences in between sectoral, thematic, targeted and horizontal/vertical sanctions, as well as the unilateral and multilateral avenues through which they can be imposed. This brief also lays out how extraterritoriality is now woven into the understanding and state practice of sanctions. It finally lays out the humanitarian impact of unbridled sanctions on vulnerable populations, summing up the need for more targeted and effective sanctions regimes throughout the world.