X Close



UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Economic Sanctions Against War: An Effective Deterrent?

By Swati Sharma, on 27 April 2022


Protests in London against the invasion of Ukraine. Obtained under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

The ongoing Russian-Ukraine war has triggered a string of economic sanctions against Russia, apparently intended to bring an end to the conflict. Let us understand the background and ramifications of sanctions.

Sanctions, in general, are a set of penal actions taken against an entity or entities, that could be adopted by courts, nations, or international bodies. Chapter VII of the UN Charter, through Article 41, also provides for non-military enforcement measures.

Ideally, preventing conflicts and enhancing international peace and security are considered a few of the prime objectives of sanctions. However, sanctions have also often been seen as political tools for settling diplomatic scores or achieving other desirable results, making their efficiency as a non-violent, diplomatic conflict resolution tool questionable.

In contrast, economic, humanitarian, and commercial sanctions typically worked better than any combination—Iran, 1979; Iraq, 1990; Haiti, 1991; and Yugoslavia, 1992, to name a few.

There are also instances aplenty when sanctions failed to accomplish their goal. In 2014, UN, EU, and US sanctions were imposed on Russia when it invaded Crimea, but still a war erupted in Ukraine. Despite UN sanctions, the Taliban strengthened and seized control of Afghanistan. Additionally, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba have all defied sanctions. Moreover, sanctions can risk spurring conflict, as in Rwanda, 1990, and Nicaragua, 1970.

In today’s age of globalisation, sanctions have become a double-edged sword. To impose effective sanctions, one must necessarily: (a) diagnose the causes of conflicts accurately; (b) design sanctions such that they decisively alter the balance of power, and (c) ensure political will among those imposing sanctions to sustain them. For, with the lapse of time, their—those sanctioning—will can be eroded, or new diplomatic factors may emerge. Therefore, it is time to reconsider the efficacy of sanctions as such and explore whether sanctions need to be supplemented by other measures to resolve conflict and reduce the risk of war.

Swati Sharma is a veteran of the Indian Army, and after successful completion of her tenure, joined the Rajasthan Home Guards Services. While she served as the Commandant, she got selected as a Chevening Scholar 2021-22. Presently, she is currently pursuing her Master’s in Risk, Disaster and Resilience at IRDR, UCL. 


swati.sharma.21@ucl.ac.uk | Twitter: @captswatis


3 Responses to “Economic Sanctions Against War: An Effective Deterrent?”

  • 1
    Rajeev Dasot wrote on 29 April 2022:

    A complicated issue has been explained in a very lucid manner. Looking forward for a detailed analysis of impact of sanctions against Russia.

  • 2
    PRANAY JASORIA wrote on 30 April 2022:

    A very well observed and effectively described article elucidating on the grey areas where the forum of inlellects needs to ponder and review the complete strategy of sanctions and their effective impact. Of course sanctions do have their political agenda but the current scenario leads the powerful and mighty along with the underdog being assisted by the bully nowhere. A mission not planned well leading to failure at all spheres including a global loss. Eventually fate of all vested interests approaching doom’s day.

  • 3
    G S Saini, VSM wrote on 5 May 2022:

    Dear Swati Sharma,
    An wonderfully factual blog on the Ukraine-Russia war. The only thing we need to add is, in the present world where most economies depend for their resources from others, imposing sanctions becomes very challenging. If all factors are considered collectively and all nations impose sanctions together, the impact shall be higher. As in this case the NATO house itself is divided as many nations depend on Russian gas. Please also look at the need for Russia to go to war, …. if US could object to Russian missiles on Cuba soil … so does Russia in not allowing NATO to become a next door neighbour …. Russia’s security concerns are absolutely right ….
    Wish the Best in your Research endeavours …
    G S Saini

Leave a Reply