Speaker: Conley, H. (Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS))
Date: 10 October 2019
SMA hosted speaker session presented by Ms. Heather Conley (Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series. During her brief, Ms. Conley discussed the effectiveness of US sanctions, particularly towards Russia. She first emphasized that sanctions are tools, rather than policies; however, recently, the US has used sanctions so frequently that they appear to be in lieu of formal policy. She then presented three questions for US decision makers to consider when thinking about the effectiveness of sanctions: 1) What goal are we trying to achieve?; 2) Does the target state understand what they need to do or what behavior they need to change?; and 3) Do our allies agree with this approach, and how can we strengthen/harness these sanctions to achieve our goal? Ms. Conley stated that, despite imposing heavy sanctions on Russia since 2011, the US still is not witnessing a change in Russian behavior. She explained that this is because the Russians believe that US sanctions will never be lifted, as they have been imposed for a vast number of reasons, including Russian interference in US elections, various acts of organized crime, and its actions in Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela. Moreover, Ms. Conley argued that we have become increasingly out of sync with our allies when it comes to imposing sanctions against Russia. She then stated that despite the appeal of sanctions (sanctions do not require any military action or costs, but they can sometimes be just as effective of a tool), there are negative implications associated with the US making sanctions its weapon of choice. For instance, adversaries are decoupling from the US financial system by using cryptocurrency and creating parallel systems to work around US sanctions. This is particularly problematic when it comes to Russia because it is a nation that the US has been trying to incorporate into the Western economy for years. Moreover, the sanctions that the US imposes on adversaries like Russia can have secondary negative effects on other countries (sometimes US allies) that trade with that country. To conclude, Ms. Conley stated that the US needs to reassess how it uses its sanctions in order to make it a more successful tool.