Have sanctions ever "worked"?

I realize this might be better for Great Debates.

Have sanctions against a nation, economic or trade or otherwise, ever actually accomplished the intended goal? Or just made things rougher and shittier for the average citizen of said nation? I’m thinking of cases like Iraq, South Africa, and North Korea where it appears all said sanctions did was make life harder for average joes not involved with the ruling regime.

This article is a few years old and specifically relates to Zimbabwe, but you may find at least parts of it interesting.

Complete article here:

I think that a great argument could be made that sanctions worked against Iraq (although there was also the Gulf War). Saddam didn’t have any WMDs when we invaded.

Sanctions helped bring apartheid to an end. While South Africa is far from a paradise, it did improve for the majority of the population.

It isn’t clear that sanctions “worked” to any great extent in South Africa


The upshot of these are that the sanctions can actually be counterproductive and the main effect may be the publicity and public consciousness-raising, not to be sniffed at (and not useless by any means) but the actual sanctions may not have the desired effect.

I disagree. They definitely worked in South Africa - they may not have worked from a strictly economic analysis, but they definitely worked from a psychological perspective - just knowing that other countries were aware of our predicament did a lot to boost our morale, more than offsetting any hardship we experienced (I think the hardest I ever got was not getting BBC programming, myself.) Plus it really helped in knowing who in the international community was outright evil - Reagan, Thatcher…

That’s not because of sanctions though. We had a cease-fire agreement with Saddam in which he also agreed to inspections and allowed for us to oversee destruction of stockpiled WMDs. When he had basically caused too many problems for the inspectors and the rest of the international community, Clinton bombed the shit out of Iraq in 1998 (Operation Desert Fox.) This is activity often forgotten today–but at that point in time it was widely accept Iraq was not doing all that it said it would to get rid of its WMDs, and now that we know WMDs were no longer present (in stockpile quantity anyway) in 2003 it seems very likely what actually pushed Saddam from “half-assed cooperation” to “actually destroying all his stockpiles” was the message Clinton sent by bombing him: that we’re serious about this and not doing what you agreed to do will have serious consequences.

Desert Fox specifically was targetting facilities that could be used to stockpile and manufacture WMDs, especially ones Iraq had successfully been able to keep inspectors from really accessing.

That quote is interesting; if it were written today, they’d probably have to cross Burma off the list of countries where sanctions had no effect.

Moderator Note

MrDibble, political jabs are not permitted in General Questions. No warning issued, but don’t do this again.

General Questions Moderator

Didn’t Libya also give up their WMD program as a result of sanctions?

Although even that didn’t really save Qaddafi long-term…

Saddam destroyed the last of his weapons in the early to mid-90’s. Long before the '98 bombings. From an AP description of transcripts of Saddam meeting with his advisors that were found after the US invasion:

The only thing the arms embargo accomplished, was to establish a South African arms Industry and a damn fine one at that.

Per the OP,sanctions can have an effect in the short to medium term. Long term, greater than five years they cease to be effective because the sanctioned country ilk begin to adjust to them.

Incidentally, FW De klerk agrees that sanctions have limited effects.

As late as October 1997 UNSCOM destroyed a large cache of chemical weapons. So there is no real factual basis for your claim that "long before the ‘98 bombings’ the last of Saddam’s weapons were destroyed. In addition to chemical weapons equipment used to manufacture chemical weapons was also destroyed at this time, and Iraq admitted some of this equipment had previously been used to manufacture VX nerve agent. None of that is in dispute. cite

“Chemical weapon related equipment and precursors” according to your link. Not the weapons themselves, which as I said, Saddam believed had already been destroyed.

But whatever they were, a bombing mission in 1998 didn’t cause Saddam to do anything in 1997.

Noted, but I didn’t intend it as a jab, more a comment on our (i.e. people involved in the struggle against apartheid) perceptions at the time.

Well, except when he says “In the case of South Africa, it kept us on our toes. It halted economic growth” - that was its intention, and it really did hurt investment in the country.
And when he says “, but it hurt the black population much more than the white population” - we knew that would happen going in - and we were willing to take the pain. Generic “we”, of course.

And might I add, De Klerk didn’t “dismantle” anything, his regime was basically forced to negotiate at gunpoint. The country was ungovernable, the collapse of Communism removed any excuse for the West not to act…their backs were to the wall. And sanctions were part of that whole package.