Human Rights Review

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 393–411 | Cite as

Economic Sanctions and Political Repression: Assessing the Impact of Coercive Diplomacy on Political Freedoms

  • Dursun PeksenEmail author
  • A. Cooper Drury


This article offers a thorough analysis of the unintended impact economic sanctions have on political repression—referred to in this study as the level of the government respect for democratic freedoms and human rights. We argue that economic coercion is a counterproductive policy tool that reduces the level of political freedoms in sanctioned countries. Instead of coercing the sanctioned regime into reforming itself, sanctions inadvertently enhance the regime’s coercive capacity and create incentives for the regime’s leadership to commit political repression. Cross-national time series data support our argument, confirming that the continued use of economic sanctions (even when aimed at promoting political liberalization and respect for human rights) will increase the level of political repression. These findings suggest that both scholars and policy makers should pay more attention to the externalities caused by economic coercion.


Economic sanctions Democracy Human rights Political repression Coercive diplomacy 


  1. Abouharb, M. Rodwan, and David L. Cingranelli. 2006. “The Human Right Effects of World Bank Structural Adjustment, 1981–2000.” International Studies Quarterly 50: 233–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen, Susan H. 2004. “Rallying Cry? Economic Sanctions and the Domestic Politics of the Target State.” PhD dissertation, Emory University.Google Scholar
  3. Andreas, Peter. 2005. “Criminalizing Consequences of Sanctions: Embargo Busting and Its Legacy.” International Studies Quarterly 49: 335–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Apodaca, Clair. 2001. “Global Economic Patterns and Personal Integrity Rights after the Cold War.” International Studies Quarterly 45: 587–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Armijo, Leslie E. 1999. “Mixed Blessing: Expectations About Foreign Capital Flows and Democracy in Emerging Markets.” In Financial Globalization and Democracy in Emerging Markets, Leslie E. Armijo, eds. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  6. Baldwin, David A. 1985. Economic Statecraft. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Barber, James. 1979. “Economic Sanctions as a Policy Instrument.” International Affairs 5:367–384.Google Scholar
  8. Blanton, Shannon L. 1999. “Instruments of Security or Tools of Repression? Arms Imports and Human Rights Conditions in Developing Countries.” Journal of Peace Research 36: 233–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, Alastair Smith, Randolph M. Siverson, and James D. Morrow. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  10. Carothers, Thomas, and Marina Ottaway. 2005. Uncharted Journey: Promoting Democracy in the Middle East. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  11. Carothers, Thomas. 1999. Aiding Democracy Abroad: The Learning Curve. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.Google Scholar
  12. Cingranelli, David L., and David L. Richards. 2004. The Cingranelli–Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Database.
  13. Cortright, David, and George A. Lopez. 2000. “Learning from the Sanctions Decade.” Global Dialogue 2:11–24.Google Scholar
  14. Cortright, David, and George A. Lopez, eds. 1995. Economic Sanctions: Panacea or Peacebuilding in a Post-Cold War World? Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  15. Cortright, David, Alistair Millar, and George A. Lopez. 2001. Smart Sanctions: Restructuring UN Policy in Iraq. Goshen, IN: Fourth Freedom Forum.Google Scholar
  16. Davenport, Christian. 1995. “Assessing the Military’s Influence on Political Repression.” Journal of Political and Military Sociology 23: 119–144.Google Scholar
  17. Drezner, Daniel W. 1998. “Conflict Expectations and the Paradox of Economic Coercion.” International Studies Quarterly 42: 709–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Drury, A. Cooper. 2005. Economic Sanctions and Presidential Decisions. New York: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Drury, A. Cooper. 2001. “Sanctions as Coercive Diplomacy: The U. S. President’s Decision to Initiate Economic Sanctions.” Political Research Quarterly 54: 485–508.Google Scholar
  20. Drury, A. Cooper. 1998. “Revisiting Economic Sanctions Reconsidered.” Journal of Peace Research 35: 497–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Drury, A. Cooper, and Yitan Li. 2006. “U.S. Economic Sanction Threats against China: Failing to Leverage Better Human Rights.” Foreign Policy Analysis 2: 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fearon, James D. 1994. “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes.” American Political Science Review 88: 577–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Freedom House. 2004. Freedom in the World: Comparative Rankings 1976–2004. Washington, DC: Freedom House.Google Scholar
  24. Galtung, Johan. 1967. “On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions: With Examples from the Case of Rhodesia.” World Politics 19: 378–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gasiorowski, Mark. 1995. “Economic Crisis and Political Regime Change: An Event History Analysis.” American Political Science Review 89: 882–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. George, Alexander. 1991. Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace.Google Scholar
  27. Gibbons, Elizabeth D. 1999. Sanctions in Haiti: Human Rights and Democracy under Assault. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  28. Gleditsch, Kristian, and Michael D. Ward. 2006. “Diffusion and the International Context of Democratization.” International Organization 60: 911–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Goldstone, Jack, Robert Bates, and David Epstein. 2000. State Failure Task Force: Phase III Findings. McLean, VA: SAIC.Google Scholar
  30. Gurr, Ted R. 1968. “A Causal Model of Civil Strife: A Comparative Analysis Using New Indices.” American Political Science Review 62: 1104–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Haas, Richard N. 1997. “Sanctioning Madness.” Foreign Affairs 76: 74–85.Google Scholar
  32. Hafner-Burton, Emilie. 2005a. “Right or Robust? The Sensitive Nature of Government Repression in an Era of Globalization.” Journal of Peace Research 42: 679–698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hafner-Burton, Emilie. 2005b. “Trading Human Rights: How Preferential Trade Agreements Influence Government Repression.” International Organization 59: 593–629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hufbauer, Gary, Jeffrey Schott, and Kimberly A. Elliott. 1990. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy, 2nd. ed. Washington, DC: Institute for International Economics.Google Scholar
  35. Hufbauer, Gary, Jeffrey Schott, Kimberly A. Elliott, and Barbara Oegg. 2008. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and Current Policy, 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Patterson Institute for International Economics.Google Scholar
  36. Huntington, Samuel. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: Oklahoma University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Kaempfer, William H., and Anton D. Lowenberg. 1988. “The Theory of International Economic Sanctions: A Public Choice Approach.” American Economic Review 78: 786–793.Google Scholar
  38. Kirshner, Jonathan. 1997. “The Microfoundations of Economic Sanctions.” Security Studies 6: 32–64.Google Scholar
  39. Knack, Stephen. 2004. “Does Foreign Aid Promote Democracy?” International Studies Quarterly 48: 251–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kopstein, Jeffrey, and David Reilly. 2000. “Geographic Diffusion and the Transformation of the Postcommunist World.” World Politics 53: 1–37.Google Scholar
  41. Mack, Andrew, and Asif Khan. 2000.”The Efficacy of UN Sanctions.” Security Dialogue 31: 279–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Marinov, Nikolay. 2005. “Do Economic Sanctions Destabilize Country Leaders?” American Journal of Political Science 49: 564–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Meernik, James. 1996. “United States Military Intervention and the Promotion of Democracy.” Journal of Peace Research 33: 391–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Meyer, William H. 1996. “Human Rights and MNCs: Theory versus Quantitative Analysis.” Human Rights Quarterly 18: 368–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Mitchell, Neil J., and James McCormick. 1988. “Economic and Political Explanations of Human Rights Violations.” World Politics 40: 476–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Morgan, T. Clifton, and Valerie L. Schwebach. 1997. “Fools Suffer Gladly: The Use of Economic Sanctions in International Crises.” International Studies Quarterly 41: 27–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pape, Robert A. 1997. “Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work.” International Security 22: 90–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Peceny, Mark. 1999. Democracy at the Point of Bayonets. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University.Google Scholar
  49. Peksen, Dursun. 2009. “Better or Worse? The Effect of Economic Sanctions on Human Rights.” Journal of Peace Research 46: 59–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Peksen, Dursun, and A. Cooper Drury. 2008. “Coercive or Corrosive: The Negative Impact of Economic Sanctions on Democracy.” Working paper.Google Scholar
  51. Pevehouse, Jon. 2002a. “Democracy from the Outside-In? International Organizations and Democratization.” International Organization 56: 515–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Pevehouse, Jon. 2002b. “With a Little Help from My Friends? Regional Organizations and the Consolidation of Democracy.” American Journal of Political Science 46: 611–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pickering, Jeffrey, and Mark Peceny. 2006. “Forging Democracy at Gunpoint.” International Studies Quarterly 50: 539–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pickering, Jeffrey, and Emizet F. Kisangani. 2006. “Political, Economic, and Social Consequences of Foreign Military Intervention.” Political Research Quarterly 59: 363–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Poe, Steven C., and Neal Tate. 1994. “Repression of Human Rights to Personal Integrity in the 1980s: A Global Analysis.” American Political Science Review 88: 853–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Poe, Steven C., Neal Tate, and Linda C. Keith. 1999. “Repression of the Human Right to Personal Integrity Revisited.” International Studies Quarterly 43: 291–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Reuther, David E. 1995. “UN Sanctions against Iraq.” In Economic Sanctions: Panacea or Peacebuilding in a Post-Cold War World, Cortright, David and George Aasa Lopez, eds. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  58. Richards, David, Ronald Gelleny, and David Sacko. 2001. “Money With A Mean Streak? Foreign Economic Penetration and Government Respect for Human Rights in Developing Countries.” International Studies Quarterly 45: 219–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Rowe, David M. 2000. “Economic Sanctions, Domestic Politics and the Decline of Rhodesian Tobacco, 1965–79.” In Sanctions as Economic Statecraft: Theory and Practice, Steve Chan and A. Cooper Drury, eds. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  60. Rudra, Nita. 2005. “Globalization and the Strengthening of Democracy in the Developing World.” American Journal of Political Science 49: 704–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schultz, Kenneth. 1998. “Domestic Opposition and Signaling in International Crises.” American Political Science Review 92: 829–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Thyne, Clayton L. 2006. “ABC’s, 123’s and the Golden Rule: The Pacifying Effect of Education on Civil Conflict, 1980–1999.” International Studies Quarterly 50: 733–754.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tsebelis, George. 1990. “Are Sanctions Effective? A Game-Theoretic Analysis.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 34: 3–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wallensteen, Peter. 1968. “Characteristics of Economic Sanctions.” Journal of Peace Research 5: 248–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Weiss, Thomas G. 1999. “Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool: Weighing Humanitarian Impulses.” Journal of Peace Research 36: 499–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Weiss, Thomas G., David Cortright, George A. Lopez, and Larry Minear, eds. 1997. Political Gain and Civilian Pain: Humanitarian Impacts of Economic Sanctions.. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  67. Wintrobe, Ronald. 1998. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Wintrobe, Ronald. 1990. “The Tinpot and the Totalitarian: an Economic Theory of Dictatorship.” American Political Science Review 84: 849–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wood, Reed M. 2008. “A Hand upon the Throat of the Nation”: Economic Sanctions and State Repression, 1976–2001.” International Studies Quarterly 52: 489–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceEast Carolina UniversityGreenvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations