Economic Warfare Is Cruel and Useless
Economic warfare can cause destruction and dislocation, but it doesn’t deliver the political and policy goods that sanctions advocates promise.
Timothy Ash cheerleads for ineffective sanctions:
A commonly heard complaint for much of the period since Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 (and indeed, since its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and invasion of Donbas that same year), is that Western sanctions are not working.
This is not just defeatist, it’s also economically illiterate. As we have seen time and again, sanctions work but they are slow and — like water running downhill — the route they take is unpredictable.
Economic warfare can cause destruction and dislocation, but it doesn’t deliver the political and policy goods that sanctions advocates promise. Even if one accepts the twisted ends-justifying-the-means logic of using the economic weapon on an entire country, sanctions policies almost never reach their stated goals. When supporters of economic warfare claim that sanctions “work,” all that they mean is that it causes harm to the targeted economy.
Yes, it obviously does that, but that is not what anyone, including sanctions advocates, used to think of as sanctions success. If economic warfare can’t compel any desired changes in the targeted regime’s behavior, it doesn’t work except as the crudest bludgeon. It is a measure of how useless sanctions are that this is what their defenders are reduced to arguing.