Policy Analysis No. 64

What’s Wrong With Trade Sanctions

By Bruce Bartlett
December 23, 1985

Executive Summary

Under pressure from a majority of Congress, President Reagan has recently instituted a program of economic sanctions against South Africa to protest that country’s racial policies. Although there is no question that the South African government’s apartheid regime is abhorrent, before rushing into sanctions we ought to give serious thought to whether they will work. There is little historical evidence that sanctions have ever achieved their purpose; recent examples of such nonsuccess include the U.S. embargo on grain shipments to the Soviet Union in 1981 and U.S. sanctions against Nicaragua in 1985. More often than not, sanctions end up making the target country more self-sufficient and strengthening its resolve to continue its policies. In the case of South Africa, the result may be a strengthening of apartheid, rather than its demise.

Read the Full Policy Analysis

Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.