Economic sanctions have become a key component of the U.S. response to any crisis. Indeed, the Obama administration has imposed sanctions on countries as diverse as Russia, Iran, and Egypt, drawing on the strength and global reach of the U.S. financial system to coerce these states. There is no denying that sanctions can be powerful tools of statecraft. Yet the evidence also suggests a more complicated picture.
Not only are sanctions often ineffective, they can also carry significant costs for U.S. businesses. In the most recent case—those levied against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine—it is unclear whether sanctions have produced any political change. At the same time, other nations are learning from the American example, experimenting with their own sanctions.