In order to deal with security challenges, the Security Council of the United Nations has resorted to sanctions on numerous occasions in recent years ranging from conflict resolution to human rights promotion. At the same time, sanctions have evolved from a comprehensive form, namely complete trade embargoes, to a more limited form wherein targets of sanctions are often individuals and non-state entities. The intense activity by the Council has brought new interest in understanding how sanctions work and what they are supposed to achieve, but the scholarly and policy debate remains focused on whether sanctions should attempt to change the behaviour of targets, to contribute to a behavioural change, and to achieve political objectives.
The scholarly and policy debate has also not adequately explained the continued use of sanctions, despite the fact that the perception of this foreign policy instrument was often negative. David Baldwin suggested that the problem lay with scholars talking about different things, rather than talking about the sanctions themselves. The diversification in the use of targeted sanctions further underscores the need for more useful analytical tools, confirmed by the fact that the measures imposed on Al-Qaida were analysed in ways essentially similar to the sanctions applied to North Korea, Libya, or Sudan. In fact, each of these sanctions regimes has very specific characteristics that are scarcely engaged in the literature. If we are to understand sanctions, the reasons behind their imposition need to be clear: namely, what are the different purposes of sanctions?
This chapter intends to investigate the purposes of targeted sanctions and to outline a typology that allows for a more precise comparison across time and space. In this work, ‘purpose’ refers specifically to the way in which sanctions intend to influence targets, which differs from its objective, that is the policy goal senders broadly want to achieve. The behavioural change criterion – the idea that sanctions are imposed to change the behaviour of targets – still dominates the debate. Sanctions are expected to impose an economic burden on targets, prompting them to change their behaviour in order to avoid the costs of sanctions. Although this expectation was termed the ‘naïve theory of sanctions’ by Johan Galtung already in 1967, it still drives much of the debate about sanctions today.