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Can western sanctions touch Bashar al-Assad?

19 August 2011

Western countries are at loss about how to pressure Bashar al-Assad to end the brutal crackdown on protesters. They do not know whether or not to sanction Syria's oil and gas industry. They often ask first whether sanctions will end up harming civilians, and second, will they actually work? These questions have relevance but they demonstrate poor understanding of sanctions as a foreign policy instrument.

Sanctions, defined as an economic instrument used to influence the political behaviour of an opponent state, are premised on the logic that the legitimacy and survival of the regime rest on its economic strength. For the sanctions to have their supposed coercive effects, economic hardships inflicted on citizens are inevitable; otherwise the regime remains unaffected and is therefore unlikely to alter its behaviour. In other words, by design, sanctions target society at large in order to indirectly put pressure on the regime.

Generally speaking, the impact of the measure depends on several circumstances: the intensity of trade between the parties, the economic structure of the parties and the ability of the target country to countermeasure or bypass the restrictions.

For the full article please see the website of the Guardian

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Rob de Wijk

Rob de Wijk is the founder and non-executive director of HCSS. He studied Contemporary History and International Relations in Groningen, and wrote his PhD dissertation on NATO’s ‘Flexibility in Response’ strategy at the Political Science Department of Leiden University.

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