How to deal with U.S. sanctions?

The current administration of the United States pursues the (not unprecedented) policy of ignoring substituting or bypassing global and international norms to a new level.  Recent examples include international trade treaties, the withdrawal from the Kyoto process, the pull-out from the 5 plus 1 Iran agreement, and the ongoing side-effects of these withdrawals.

It matters little whether current foreign policy is a continuation of traditional attitudes of exceptionalism, or if it is designed to win favour with certain domestic U.S. constituencies.

One of the more interesting issues is the phenomenon of secondary sanctions. This means that the U.S. administration does not only decide about which sanctions against who it wants to implement, but also tries to oblige companies from other countries to follow these ‘directions‘. If transnational companies do not accept this, they are threatened by sanctions themselves and may not be able to continue with commercial activities in the U.S., or with American partners.

While the global liberal order established after 1945 may be eroding, certain national regulations  are being preserved, or even strengthened, especially in the U.S.,  China  and to some extent, Russia.

This week’s questions are: a) is this acceptable? And b) what strategies and measures can be conceived to cope with this?


Klaus Segbers


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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 1 month ago

    Sanctions are not acceptable, sanctions are generally reflecting a wrong direction in international politics. However, we must understand that for years the analysts and radical politicians in many countries including some in Europe, and also Russia were insisting that the US hegemony is malign, that it disappears, that the American leadership fades away, that the US is a week country, that Americans have nothing to trade in, that Americans are not producing anything, the US dollar is a fake world currency imposed on others for American economic benefits and that multilateral agreements are an American invention to impose American economic supremacy on other countries. At the same time, both America and Europe imposed sanctions on others never considering that sanctions can be imposed on them. In a polycentric world, these cries and following policy of a deconstructive nature and double standards resulted in tectonic shifts in America and the appearance of D.Trump with his one-dimension cynical “America first!” policy. So, now we all should rebalance the polycentrism with the benign place for the USA in the international system, reconstruct ‘constructive relationships’ with the USA as one of the most important international political and economic actors and explain for Mr.Trump that sanctions will not bring benefits to anybody including America itself.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 1 month ago

    It is almost two years that the European Union faces a menacing situation for the first time in its 61st year of existence: world’s three most powerful military countries-rivals are clearly willing to weaken or even ruin the EU. D. Trump after moving from business to politics proved that he is a person of one’s word. Many experienced politicians have defined his pre-election promises as highly irresponsible because they can cause chaos in the world. Now these promises are consistently implemented. The president of the United States does not hide his sympathy for some dictators. His sanctions policy is also dictatorial: to punish all countries, even the closest allies, who do not abide by the sanctions unilaterally imposed by the United States. Brussels should have to talk, negotiate with Washington, but should not obey the dictate. On the other hand, the countries and leaders which seem authoritarian are also growing in the European Union. Let’s see what kind of surprises we will get from the new Italian government.

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  3. Tobias Lechner 1 month ago

    The nasty secondary sanctions ask, of course, for an honest response. Juncker’s “Blocking Statute” is a first necessary step. Despite the many unbelievable events in the U.S., an evaluation of the Transatlantic partnership should not refer to better times in the past, but to alternatives. The emerging authoritarian alliance makes Europe crystal clear that friends are friends even when they behave like enemies. The highest priority for the EU, despite Brexit and Trump, should be to preserve the Transatlantic friendship. Whereas some scholars argue that Trump (and real autocrats around the world) only understands signs of strength, and that Macron’s and Merkel’s pleasing attitudes in the White House only encouraged Trump, I argue that the EU should still use carrots for friends (e.g., decreasing tariffs not increasing them), and keep the sticks for others.

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  4. Friederike Kies 1 month ago

    Recent examples as the U.S. administration´s withdrawal from the Kyoto process, the pull-outs from the 5 plus 1 Iran agreement, other international trade treaties and following side effects, are worrisome trends for international politics. With American tariffs and sanctions the U.S. administration is risking a trade war with Europe and other countries. Ultimately the U.S. is isolating itself from former allies and the world. One is left to wonder whether the global liberal order established after 1945 is slowly eroding. Europe seems to realize this change, as Tusk recently said, when looking at U.S. administration´s decisions one “could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies.” Furthermore, he states the “EU should be grateful…We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.” The EU should set an example by not entering a trade war with the U.S., but focus on establishing relations with new allies.

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  5. Stephanie von Kanel 1 month ago

    While many states exercise their power capabilities for specific objectives, none operate from a position of such absolute-power as the United States. Underlying the unparalleled power of the US in sanctioning states is the ideology of American exceptionalism; which contends the US differs qualitatively from other states. This ideological-standpoint positions the US as the global arbiter of morality in political decision making and this is problematic. While the US is no exemplar of moral virtue (neither are other states), it is a nation of extreme economic strength and military capacity. Herein comes the explanation for why US-led sanctions are so powerful and often uncompromising. Such power has superseded political exceptionalism for exemptionalism, whereby the US state curtails international concerns for domestic agendas.Yet perhaps a turning point on US authority over sanctions will develop as a result of their retraction from the Iran Nuclear deal. If the other signatory states are able to sustain and perhaps strengthen the deal without US commitment, this could alter the image of American absolutism in regards to sanctions. Though this would not diminish US power entirely, it would be a strong message on the potentiality of change. What is evident, however, is that significant shifts in global power systems require commitment and time.

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  6. Mina Sumaadii 1 month ago

    This is not an acceptable strategy, because it leaves too much room for abuse and damage in the long-run. Basically, what we are looking at is while the U.S. enforces sanctions unilaterally, it wants to maximize their effectiveness to the level of multilateral sanctions. The problem is the lack of international support of those sanctions from the start.
    In the short term, Europeans should push-back and block these secondary sanctions under the condition of compliance only if their origins are multilateral. Collectively the EU should hold no illusions about the U.S. as a partner with the current administration’s ‘America First’ and move on. The long-term strategy I can think of is to try to strengthen and support multilateral institutions, such as the WTO in case of sanctions and trade disputes.

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1 Comment

  1. Mohammad Mahdi 1 month ago

    I do not have much to say! Everything is explicit and clear. I believe in this century US is playing with cards of military and sanctions and EU is a loser as Russia and China are looking for a deal. EU is in an extreme need to be both careful in diplomacy and offensive in economy. Developing countries specially those in MENA are willing to EU rather than US. EU should crowl out of its shell and play a significant role near and far! Now or never!

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