Why Canada Should Rethink its Approach to Economic Sanctions

(Published in The Conversation, Mar. 6, 2022)

Western countries have imposed massive sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. The West has increasingly relied on economic sanctions to punish or change the policies of foreign governments in the last several decades. The conventional wisdom is that economic sanctions are an effective and peaceful foreign policy tool.

Some sanctions regimes, such as the current effort against Russia, may be both effective and lawful. But as I explored in a recent research report, some economic sanctions may violate international law principles, including those the sanctions are intended to enforce. They may therefore undermine the very legal regimes that Canadians like to champion.

The nature of economic sanctions

Many economic sanctions are authorized by the United Nations Security Council or regional organizations. But countries are increasingly imposing sanctions without such legal authority. It’s these so-called unilateral or autonomous sanctions that raise legal questions.

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