Studying political & economic measures that enhance diplomacy & protect human rights
Studying political & economic measures that enhance diplomacy & protect human rights

UN Sanctions and Assessing Sanctions Impact

1991 - 1997

A major conference at Notre Dame (spring 1993) brought together academic experts and UN and international agency officials who had been involved with sanctions in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and Haiti. The conference validated the need for new scholarly scrutiny of sanctions and led to the publication of a special issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “Economic Sanctions: Do They Work?” (November 1993), an article in the Fletcher Forum (Summer 1995) on the new sanctions systems, and the publication of the book Economic Sanctions (1995).

Cortright engaged in activities funded by the W. Alton Jones and Ford Foundations to assess the mix of sanctions and incentives needed to stifle nuclear and advanced missile proliferation in South Asia. He created a visiting fellows program that brought policy actors and social scientists from the region to the Kroc Institute to explore these issues. He also undertook two major surveys to assess the attitudes of elites in India and Pakistan to the acquisition of an atomic bomb. The results were published in edited volumes by Cortright and Amitabh Mattoo, India and the Bomb (1996), and Samina Ahmed and Cortright, Pakistan and the Bomb (1998).

Lopez was retained by the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (1993) to join Larry Minear of the Feinstein Center at Tufts University to assess studies within the UN and international agency community of the humanitarian impact of economic sanctions on Iraq. That report led to conversations among the UN’s Department of Humanitarian Affairs, the Sanctions & Security Research Project, the Humanitarianism and War Project, and Watson Institute for International Studies, which resulted in a four-year, multi-donor funded research effort to develop new tools for assessing the humanitarian impact of coercive sanctions.

In 1998, the final report was approved by the UN Interagency Standing Committee. The report served as the working template for the assessments of sanctions impact conducted by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Security Council Sanctions Committees, and related agencies. A further explication of concepts and measurements, as well as case studies, appeared as the edited volume Political Gain and Civilian Pain (1997).

Cortright and Lopez contributed to the investigations on sanctions, incentives, and economic statecraft undertaken by the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Cortright coordinated the economic incentives research group and edited a major volume titled The Price of Peace. The pair researched and wrote chapters for volumes produced by the Brookings Institution, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Center for Preventive Action of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Sanctions Reform Process and Smart Sanctions

1997 - 2002

In the late 1990s, Cortright, then President of the Fourth Freedom Forum and a professor at the Kroc Institute and Lopez were involved in discussions and development within the UN of smarter, more finely targeted sanctions. The team participated in diplomatic working conferences in Interlaken (on financial sanctions, ‘97-99), Bonn and Berlin (on arms embargoes and travel sanctions, ‘99-01), and Stockholm (on sharpening sanctions implementation, ’01-03). The reforms resulting from these processes, as well as a series of cases and policy analyses, were published in the edited volume Smart Sanctions (2002), and in chapters published in International Sanctions (2005), and Putting Teeth in the Tiger (2009).

In 1998, the Canadian government and the International Peace Academy commissioned a chronology of the 12 cases of UN Security Council sanctions in the 1990s. With assistance from Fourth Freedom Forum staff and Kroc Institute graduate students, the researchers conducted nearly 100 interviews and examined hundreds of documents to produce the Choice Award-winning volume The Sanctions Decade (2000), a book-length study that included recommendations for sanctions reform.

Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axeworthy announced that the Kroc-Forum team would receive further Canadian and International Peace Academy support to examine the scope of sanctions reform and new trends in implementation. The resulting book, Sanctions and the Search for Security (2002), also examined commodity sanctions, the emerging investigative system on sanctions effectiveness developing in the NGO community and from Panels of Experts, and the post-9/11 role of sanctions in counterterrorism.

Sanctions on Iraq and the March to War

1997 - 2003

Due to their research on the negative humanitarian consequences of sanctions in Iraq and their concern with the ethics of sanctions, the research team was part of a series of dialogues with UN officials and representatives of member states regarding the development of smart sanctions alternatives in Iraq.

With the onset of the inspections crisis in Iraq in autumn 1998, Cortright, Alistair Millar, of the Fourth Freedom Forum, and Lopez of the Kroc Institute became involved in Security Council and Secretariat concerns about the relationship between sanctions and inspections. Beginning with two articles published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1998 and 1999, the team became frequent public commentators on how to best resolve the weapons impasse with Iraq after the U.S. bombing and departure of the UN inspection team.

Working with the British mission to the United Nations and others, the team provided background research for what ultimately became Security Council Resolution 1284 (December 1999), which stated that the Council would suspend economic sanctions once Iraq renewed its cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspectors and the newly created UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

In early 2001, the research team was integrated into discussions within various agencies of the new Bush administration to explore the prospects for smart sanctions on Iraq. This led to an intensive period of consultation with key Security Council members. Cortright, Millar, and Lopez’s essays and background papers influenced UN Security Council Resolution 1382 (November 2001) and ultimately Resolution 1409 (May 2002), which effectively lifted sanctions on most civilian goods going into Iraq, defined a more specified arms and military materiel embargo, and broadened the oil-for-food program.

The team’s decade-long research on the synergy between sanctions and inspections on Iraq and detailed knowledge that the sanctions had significantly eroded the weapons capability in Iraq, led to intense involvement in the policy discussions in the year preceding the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.

Anticipating that war was a foregone conclusion in the minds of Washington policymakers, Cortright, Millar, and Lopez published a series of policy briefs aimed at testing Bush administration claims about the inadequacies of the UN inspections and the presence of WMDs in Iraq. The most widely circulated brief was “Winning without War: Sensible Security Options in Dealing with Iraq” (October 2002), an extensive analysis on why those searching for WMDs in Iraq were likely to discover only remnants in the biological and chemical area and nothing in the nuclear realm. The brief served as the intellectual platform for the Win Without War citizen coalition in the United States and its counterparts in Europe. Win Without War continues as a citizen network advocating for a more peaceful U.S. foreign policy.

Lopez and Cortright’s analysis of the absence of WMDs in Iraq and discussion of the relationship between arms inspections and sanctions was published before the war in September 2002 as “Disarming Iraq,” in Arms Control Today and after the war as “Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked” in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2004).

Sanctions and Counterterrorism

2001 - 2006

The researchers engaged in an intense period of research and policy work on Iraq during a time of dramatic expansion of the role of the UN in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. With the passage of Resolution 1373 on September 28, 2001, the Security Council created the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK’s Ambassador to the UN, as its first chair. While not a sanctions committee, the CTC required UN members to implement targeted financial and travel sanctions against a list of individuals and organizations and urged that all states ratify existing counterterrorist treaties.

The Sanctions & Security team had close access to the CTC and was involved in discussions with various governments and agencies about how to evaluate the scope and success of the committee’s work. The Danish government commissioned from the sanctions team a detailed study of the work of the CTC, which became “An Action Agenda for Enhancing the United Nations Program on Counter-Terrorism” (September 2004). This investigation paralleled the creation of a new administrative unit in March 2003, the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate.

This work of the research team drew the attention of a number of new, independent funding sources and UN member states. The Danish government, the United Nations Foundation, and the Georgetown Center for Strategic and International Studies funded an exploratory study about CTC/CTED effectiveness and the ways the United Nations system might enhance the capacity of governments to capture assets and continue to impose penalties on those who vary from this system. The first major phase of project research was published in Uniting Against Terror (2007).

To meet the expanding research needs of the international community regarding how best to organize effective counterterrorism, the Forum created the Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, (now the Global Center on Cooperative Security) based in Washington, D.C. under the direction of Forum then-Vice President Alistair Millar. Because the Center is not restricted to analysis of either sanctions issues or the UN system, it has been able to focus its work on the needs of individual UN member states, regional organizations, and various other agencies.

Sanctions and Security

2007 - 2010

The project focused on the effects of the expansion of targeted sanctions lists of designated individuals and entities, primarily under the UN Security Council al-Qaida/Taliban [1267] Committee. Much of the research in this area was sponsored by the Dutch development agency Cordaid. Conducting interviews and consultations in three continents, the research team analyzed how targeted financial and other sanctions adopted after 9/11 had adversely affected the peace and development work of civil society organizations and their leaders in Asia and Africa. The team’s analysis was published in three reports: “Friend Not Foe” (2008), “Oversight or Overlooked?” (2009), and “Overdue Process” (2009).

In 2009, with colleagues from the Watson Institute at Brown University, the research team continued to conduct interviews and consultations with UN actors and stakeholders involved in the reform of the 1267 regime. Working with colleagues from Cordaid, and European governments concerned about the due process issues, the team made a series of presentations, most notably at a symposium sponsored by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

With funding from Sweden, Belgium, Finland, and Cordaid, the program engaged representatives of permanent members of the UN Security Council in creating a report, “Human Rights and Targeted Sanctions” (October 2009), which was discussed at a diplomatic symposium sponsored by the government of Finland. On December 17, the Security Council passed Resolution 1904 as an extension of Resolution 1822 and a major reform of the 1267 regime. A number of the recommendations presented in the various publications from this project were reflected in the Resolution 1904.

The Sanctions & Security team also focused on analyzing how to refine multilateral targeted sanctions with how to coordinate the formulation and implementation of this sanctions tool into wider UN actions aimed at promoting peace. Research included interviews with diplomats, UN officials, and a systematic analysis of studies of the UN Sanctions Committees’ Panels of Experts, research conducted on UN peacekeeping operations, and internal reports of committees and Special Representatives of the Secretary General. Much of this work contributed to a report to the Security Council Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions (2006) which itself influenced the handbook, Best Practices and Recommendations for Improving the Effectiveness of United Nations Sanctions. The handbook was the subject of a major UN forum sponsored by the government of Greece in New York in April 2007.

Building from these intense UN discussions, the researchers further engaged in a series of meetings with governments serving and soon-to-serve on the UN Security Council regarding new studies and consultations on strengthening targeted sanctions. These meetings were held in New York in March and November 2009 and March 2010.

With multiyear funding from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Sanctions & Security team engaged in two major projects. In the first, the research team facilitated a workshop in December 2008 and prepared materials to help develop a UN information management system for monitoring targeted sanctions. The workshop served as a catalyst for the Security Council Subsidiary Organs Branch and other UN Secretariat staff to develop a new architecture and content of the data system for the UN expert panels working to discover sanctions violations.

The second project took a ‘whole of UN system’ perspective and was aimed at improving the coordination of economic sanctions design and implementation with the peacekeeping, diplomatic mediation, and other instruments of UN policy for attaining the goals of the UN Charter. The observations and recommendations of this research were published in October 2010 as “Integrating UN Sanctions for Peace and Security”.

During this period Lopez, Cortright, and Millar participated in a large comparative study of multilateral targeted sanctions, coordinated by Thomas Bierstecker of the Geneva Institute of International Studies and Sue Eckert of the Watson Institute, which would later appear in Targeted Sanctions. George Lopez completed a multi-year project on arms embargoes, which was published as Putting Teeth in the Tiger (2009), co-edited with Michael Brozska, who was the primary academic convenor of the Bonn-Berlin process earlier in the decade.

The team also focused on summarizing and reassessing the contours and contribution of sanctions to multilateral concerns. David Cortright, George Lopez, and Linda Gerber-Stellingwerf wrote two seminal chapters about the history of Security Council sanctions for The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations (2008) and The United Nations Security Council and War (2008), both published by Oxford University Press, and Lopez wrote entries on international sanctions for two new encyclopedia.

Sanctions to Protect Human Rights and Prevent Atrocities

2010 - 2020

The Sanctions & Security Research Project has continued to assess the use of sanctions to address a range of peace and conflict issues. In 2020 the team produced a report that assesses past UN sanctions cases to address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Sanctions & Security team has examined the evolution of targeted sanctions in Cortright and Lopez’s chapter on “Sanctions as Alternatives to War,” published in The Handbook on the Political Economy of War, and George Lopez contributed a chapter on “Sanctions” to The Oxford Handbook on the United Nations in 2018.

The Sanctions & Security team also sharpened its focus on how UN sanctions have been utilized for atrocity prevention purposes. In 2016 Lopez wrote several book chapters and articles on this topic including “Mobilizing Economic Sanctions for Preventing Mass Atrocities: From Targeting Dictators to Enablers,” published in New Approaches to Preventing Genocide.

Highlighting the importance of promoting and protecting human rights remains an integral part of the team’s work and in 2013 Lopez wrote a chapter on “Enforcing Human Rights Through Economic and Other Sanctions” that appeared in The Handbook of International Human Rights Law.

Throughout the decade, the team continued their work on improving counterterrorism policy and practice. In 2012 Cortright and Millar were co-authors of the first “Blue Sky” report that assessed the UN’s counterterrorism program and Millar continued to author or co-author three subsequent reports in the series including “Clouds Dispersing?” in 2018, and also in that same year Cortright and Millar each contributed chapters to The Ecology of Violent Extremism edited by Lisa Schirch.