In response to the military coup in Myanmar earlier this month, President Biden imposed targeted sanctions on the regime, freezing $1 billion in government assets in the United States and restricting exports to the military. Biden's hope is the financial hit will force the junta to release detained civilian leaders and cede power back to the elected government, but The New Yorker's Steve Coll examined whether the sanctions can actually produce such a change.
The chances seem slim based on decades of research, including scholarship that shows sanctions achieve their goals only a third of the time, Coll reports. Additionally, "when the goal in the targeted country is to promote democracy" sanctions may even backfire. Dursun Peksen, a political scientist at the University of Memphis and a longtime sanctions researcher, told Coll financial actions may indeed put pressure on their targets, but rather than give in, they'll often crack down on their political opponents even harder because of "an increased sense of vulnerability."
Of course, Biden's options were limited. "The alternative is often business as usual," David Baldwin, a political scientist at Princeton University, told Coll. "How do you justify doing business as usual with a regime like that?"
Ultimately, Coll writes, there is probably a third route aside from unilateral sanctions and no response at all, but it will take "fresh thinking in Washington, deeper collaboration among Democratic allies, humility, and experimentation" to figure out exactly what it looks like. Read more at The New Yorker.