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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. These countries include Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, North Korea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.

  2. For examples, see: Huntington 1991, Gasiorowski 1995, Meernik 1996, Armijo 1999, Carothers 1999, Peceny 1999, Kopstein and Reilly 2000, Pevehouse 2002a, b, Knack 2004, Carothers and Ottoway 2005, Rudra 2005, Gleditsch and Ward 2006, Pickering and Kisangani 2006, and Pickering and Peceny 2006.

  3. Because most of the sanctioned regimes tend to be less democratic and have no popular legitimacy, their accommodation is perceived in the society as a sign of weakness. In liberal democratic systems, on the other hand, the same accommodation might be regarded as a positive step to avoid the escalation of crisis with other countries. We are grateful to Steven Roper for bringing this to our attention.

  4. Furthermore, political elites also avoid the cost of sanctions by generating revenues and securing the supplies of scarce resources through illegal smuggling and other underground transnational economic channels (Andreas 2005; Gibbons 1999).

  5. In the original dataset, the 13-point scale ranges from 1 to 7, where lower values indicate more democratic freedom. In this analysis, we recoded the index so that higher values indicate a higher level of civil and political liberties.

  6. The definition of these four rights is available at the CIRI web site (Cingranelli and Richards 2004). Each of the four physical integrity variables is originally coded as an ordinal variable on a three-point scale with frequent violations (50 or more incidences), some violations (one through 49), and no violations.

  7. Thus, only a few extreme cases, such as North Korea and Cuba, are excluded from our analysis.

  8. Note that the tables are based on the entire length of the sanctions rather than the 15 years we use in the graphical analysis. The results do not change if we limit the data to 15 years.

  9. According to a means difference test, the increasing political repression is statistically significant.

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Peksen, D., Drury, A.C. Economic Sanctions and Political Repression: Assessing the Impact of Coercive Diplomacy on Political Freedoms. Hum Rights Rev 10, 393–411 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-009-0126-2

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Keywords

  • Economic sanctions
  • Democracy
  • Human rights
  • Political repression
  • Coercive diplomacy