In Defense of Smart Sanctions: A Response to Joy Gordon

| March 2012
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This is a response to Joy Gordon’s “Smart Sanctions Revisited,” published in the Fall 2011 issue of Ethics & International Affairs.

In her recent article in this journal, Joy Gordon provides an astute history and critique of the evolution and application of smart sanctions within the United Nations system since the mid-1990s. Her analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the discrete types of smart sanctions is part of a growing discussion among both academics and practitioners about the future and the utility of these measures. As always, her continued skepticism about the effectiveness and ethical dimensions of economic sanctions deserves serious consideration and evaluation. In particular, Gordon raises three central concerns: (1) smart sanctions are no more successful than traditional trade sanctions; (2) each type of targeted mechanism has serious flaws; and (3) targeted sanctions did not end the humanitarian damage or the related ethical dilemmas that are embedded into sanctions design and implementation.

In this essay I argue that smart sanctions have been more of a pronounced success than Gordon claims. In addition, I address some of the flaws that she identifies as significant in the discrete types of sanctions. Finally, throughout this essay I project a rather different tone regarding humanitarian and due process issues than Gordon provides. This last, in particular, emerges from my judgment—open to discussion and critique, to be sure—that undergirding the disagreement between Gordon and my analysis here is a fundamental distinction. Gordon’s guiding vision of sanctions emanates from what I call the “early ’90s hangover.” By this I mean the disposition to employ the Iraq, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and Haiti sanctions cases from the early 1990s as the primary examples of sanctions’ shortcomings and the lens through which both the general sanctions enterprise and the more narrowly targeted sanctions of this era should be judged.

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Category: Issue 26.1, Response, The Ethics of War and Peace

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