WASHINGTON — Economic sanctions to force nations to change policies, like those the United States may impose on South Africa, more often fail than succeed, according to a study by an independent research institute.
The Washington-based Institute for International Economics reviewed 103 instances of sanctions since World War I and found that 55% failed to achieve their goals.
After 1973, almost two-thirds failed to force even modest policy changes, it said in a new book.
Economists Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott, who wrote the book for the private institute, said sanctions could succeed if used judiciously to reach carefully defined goals, particularly against smaller countries.
"Do not pick on someone your own size" and "do pick on the weak and helpless," they wrote, summarizing their findings.
They did not comment directly on moves in Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa to try to pressure its white minority government to end its apartheid racial policy.
Rhodesia Move Failed
A major failure, they said, was the 14-year U.N.-sponsored embargo against the former Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, to force its white minority to accept black majority rule. Rhodesia received invaluable sanctions-busting help from its white-ruled neighbor, South Africa.
The study said the increased failure of sanctions since 1973 resulted largely from greater global economic interdependence and East-West rivalry, making it easier for target countries to find alternative suppliers of goods.
Success Depends on Goals
Hufbauer and Schott said the success rate of sanctions depend upon the goals as well as the power of the wielder and the weakness of the target. They said efforts to destabilize governments and stop military adventurism were successful about half of the time.
"But attempts to impair a foreign adversary's military potential, or otherwise change its policies in a major way, generally fail," they wrote.
U.S. Successes Listed
The study said U.S. sanctions successes included coercing the Netherlands to back off from a military effort in 1948-49 to forestall Indonesian independence and persuading Egypt to withdraw troops from Yemen and the Congo in the early 1960s.
Sanctions also played a role in U.S. efforts to destabilize governments in the Dominican Republic in 1961, Brazil in 1964 and Chile in 1973.
Failures included attempts to force Turkish troops to withdraw from Cyprus, the grain embargo and 1980 Olympics boycott of the Soviet Union for its intervention in Afghanistan and efforts to destabilize Cuba and Nicaragua.
The authors said the Soviet Union has used sanctions far fewer times and usually against other Communist nations but seldom with success. They cited Soviet failures to topple governments in Yugoslavia in 1948, China in 1960, Albania in 1961 and Romania in 1965.