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"Diplomatic Sanctions as a U.S. Foreign Policy Tool: Helpful or Harmful?"

Gene A. Cretz, the first U.S. ambassador to Libya in 36 years, at a ceremony opening the visa services section at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya, Apr. 2, 2009.
AP Photo

"Diplomatic Sanctions as a U.S. Foreign Policy Tool: Helpful or Harmful?"

The Center Page

Journal Article, PS: Political Science and Politics, volume 43, issue 4, pages 826-827

October 2010

Author: Tara Maller, Former Research Fellow, International Security Program, 2010–2011

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security


Advocates of diplomatic engagement with states of concern argue that talking to both allies and adversaries is essential for advancing U.S. foreign policy interests. President Obama has repeatedly expressed the view that the United States "should be willing to initiate diplomacy as a mechanism to achieve our national security goals" (Congressional Quarterly Transcripts Wire 2009). Critics of this approach argue that engagement with these regimes is tantamount to appeasement and signals acceptance of behavior that ought to be condemned. In their view, little can be gained by talking to these states. Thus, diplomatic sanctions are seen as a low-cost means of isolating and delegitimizing regimes. This perspective, however, fails to recognize that maintaining diplomatic sanctions may actually entail a number of substantial costs to the United States and may even undermine economic sanctions' effectiveness.

Seeking to weigh in on this debate, my doctoral dissertation focuses on two central questions: (1) What are the effects of diplomatic sanctions as a foreign policy tool? and (2) Do diplomatic sanctions increase or decrease the likelihood of target state compliance with U.S. demands? I develop and test a new diplomacy-based theory of sanction efficacy focused on the role of information, communication, and diplomatic ties. A more thorough analysis of the costs of keeping diplomatic sanctions in place is essential for crafting and evaluating U.S. policies with regard to states of concern, such as decisions about the appropriate level of engagement with Iran, re-institution of the U.S. ambassador to Syria, or engagement with the leadership in Sudan....

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Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Maller, Tara. "Diplomatic Sanctions as a U.S. Foreign Policy Tool: Helpful or Harmful?." PS: Political Science and Politics 43, no. 4 (October 2010): 826-827.

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