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Protest in London demanding tougher Russian sanctions.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, sanctions have become the go-to method to punish bad actors. Since the very first day when Russian tanks rolled over the border into Ukraine, the West instituted punishing economic sanctions on Russia targeting everything from technologies that power its guided missiles to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

The impact of the Russian sanctions reached almost every corner of the globe. Russia was initially able the weather the economic storm but now, however, the sanctions are taking a toll on the Russian economy souring domestic support for Putin’s land grab. The sanctions have also contributed to a global energy crisis. At the same time, the sanctions have also affected many countries from the Global South that have developed deep economic ties with Russia.

Whether you support or oppose sanctions, it is important to acknowledge the weaponization of sanctions and the challenges they pose to addressing collective global problems.

Collective global problems have repercussions for almost all countries. In the 21st century, human rights and democracy have become such issues. Deteriorating human rights standards and global democratic backsliding have emerged as new collective global issues. The ongoing global recession, commodity shocks, and soaring inflation have also emerged as new global problems.

Sanctions emerged in the interwar period as a tool for the great powers. The early pioneers developed sanctions as an alternative to brute force. Proponents believed sanctions were an effective tool to avoid bloodshed. According to Nicholas Mulder, the author of The Economic Weapon, the use of sanctions by the allied powers further radicalized Germans.

Advanced globalization and financial inclusion have created a complex interdependency among the nations that rely on a uniform system to conduct business and are becoming skeptical about it. Such skepticism also reinforces economic nationalism. And the sanctions aimed at rivals affect billions of ordinary citizens worldwide.

The use of sanctions has increased significantly since 2016. Between 2016 and 2019, the United States imposed sanctions that constituted 40% of the total sanctions worldwide. Sanctions have also played an important role in Biden’s foreign policy as he has formulated his foreign policy centered around democracy and human rights.

Economic and human rights sanctions are closely tied to national interests. As a result, sanctions have handicapped multilateral diplomacy. For example, when the Rohingya refugee exodus took place, the West merely relied upon economic sanctions against Myanmar’s junta. However, the West could have played a more proactive role in the Rohingya crisis to solve the problem. Just to the west of Myanmar, in Bangladesh, the Biden administration announced sanctions on the RAB due to human rights allegations. But are the allegations dissimilar compared to allegations of human rights violations committed by U.S. allies?

In several cases, sanctions have only isolated regimes and worked against their intended purpose. The Global Sanction Database recorded 1,100 public sanctions between 1950 and 2019. The database also identified that the most common objective of sanctions was to address human rights violations and democracy promotion. However, only 42% of sanctions were partially successful.

Sanctions motivated by a country’s national interest create distrust about existing global economic mechanisms among the great powers. Economic sanctions against rivals also widen the gap between the great powers. Economic and military powers like Russia and China resort to establishing their own alternative economy to counter them. Take for example the attempt to promote currency swaps and the internationalization of the ruble and yuan.

Multilateralism is facing a crisis due to growing distrust and polarization. The ongoing economic recession, food, and energy insecurity, post-pandemic challenges, and soaring inflation require multilateral solutions. In the current global context, sanctions pose a severe threat to addressing existing global issues. Great powers need to come together and find solutions as their decisions affect all countries.

Doreen Chowdhury is a Doctoral Researcher at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies, and Migration Studies. Her works have appeared in The Geopolitics, Aequitas Review, Eurasia Review, and The Financial Express.