Sanctions as War

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In the 1990s, advocates of the use of economic sanctions and the conditioning of humanitarian aid as political leverage argued that economic sanctions were a new and peaceful solution to problems which otherwise would have required military intervention. Coming off the successful use of economic coercion to end apartheid in South Africa, advocates saw sanctions as a way to keep dangerous states in check and to coerce reasonable states’ interests into coincidence with the interests of the international community more generally. The 1990s were dubbed the “sanctions decade” (Cortright and Lopez 2000) with the proliferation of the use of unilateral and multilateral sanctions. Many states have since recognized sanctions as a human rights issue, in large part as a result of the terrible humanitarian disaster caused by the economic sanctions on Iraq. Others still see sanctions as the peaceful middle ground, as demonstrated by the Security Council’s use of sanctions to express disapproval of Irani nuclear proliferation. While sanctions as a problem of domestic and international security are considered relatively new in post-Cold War security discourse, they are an age-old tactic of war and the subject of much work in strategy and philosophy. This chapter uses Carl von Clausewitz’s definition of war to contend that sanctions are not a peaceful alternative to war, but an alternative form of war. It then uses Bentham’s theory of sanction to explore the nature of this alternative form of war in the “new” security era.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking the 21st Century
Subtitle of host publication'New' Problems, 'Old' Solutions
EditorsAmy Eckert, Laura Sjoberg
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherZed Books
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781848137714
ISBN (Print)9781848130074
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • economic sanctions
  • Jeremy Bentham

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