The Instigator
Con (against)
7 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
7 Points

Resolved: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/1/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 28,281 times Debate No: 10300
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (30)
Votes (2)




Pro may go first and have first dibs on definitions. DO NOT accept this debate if you are just going to forfeit or put forth a lackadaisical effort. Thanks in advance.


I thank my opponent for posting this resolution and look forward to a constructive debate. Also, please note that sources will be posted in the comments because of character limits.

I affirm that as resolved, economic sanctions ought not to be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Economic sanctions: restrictions upon international trade and finance that one country imposes on another for political reasons (A)
Ought: to be bound in duty or by moral obligation (Webster's Revised and Unabridged Dictionary)
Achieve: to bring to a successful end; carry through; accomplish (Random House)
Foreign policy: a policy pursued by a nation in its dealings with other nations, designed to achieve national objectives (American Heritage Dictionary)
Objectives: something that one's efforts are intended to attain or accomplish (RH)
Collateral damage: unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action (AHD)

Observation: Economic sanctions may be useful in purely economic disputes. However, in non-economic disputes of foreign policy (e.g. in cases of human rights abuses), I intend to prove that economic sanctions are ineffective and unwarranted.

Value: Justice, or giving each his/her due. Justice is the basis of any moral, social, or political framework, and applies to all human interactions and is therefore the fundamental value in this debate.
Criteria: government legitimacy—that is, fulfilling the role of government to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those under its jurisdiction (in this case, the protection of the people and the promotion of their welfare), which is what is due to the people (Locke); avoiding collateral damage (see definition).

Contention 1: Economic sanctions are ineffective at achieving foreign policy objectives.
A. "[T]he history of economic sanctions as a tool of foreign policy reveals that they have rarely achieved success. Just look at the long-time failed American economic sanctions against Cuba, in place since 1960, shortly after Fidel Castro took power. (1)"
The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act states that its purpose is "to maintain sanctions on the Castro regime so long as it continues to refuse to move toward democratization and greater respect for human rights (2)." However, "[t]he embargo has been a failure by every measure. It has not changed the course or nature of the Cuban government. It has not liberated a single Cuban citizen. In fact, the embargo has made the Cuban people a bit more impoverished, without making them one bit more free (3)." It is rather evident that this sanction has failed to achieve its stated objective.
B. "Currently, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Libya are on the receiving end of U.S. economic sanctions (4)." However,
"[t]he only U.S. economic sanction that enjoys international backing is the one against Iraq, which means that the other similarly black-marked countries can easily circumvent U.S. embargoes by purchasing goods and finding investors elsewhere (4)." For example, "in response to the US sanctions imposed with the goal of destabilizing Castro's regime, Soviet Russia increased its trade ties and provided aid to the Cuban communist regime to undermine the unilateral US sanctions. (9)."
C. The European Union ended its preferential tariff for Myanmar to prevent the ruling junta from ignoring the results of a recent election and placing a popular candidate, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest. Despite this action, the election results were thrown out, and Suu Kyi remains under house arrest today (5)."

Because economic sanctions fail to consistently and effectively achieve foreign policy objectives, they undermine governmental legitimacy by failing to significantly impact the well being of the people, nor to increase their security or potential for prosperity. They therefore fail to satisfy the value of justice.

C 2: The groups most greatly affected by economic sanctions—the people—in many cases have no connection to the foreign policy in question.
A. In 1990, as a response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the UN imposed comprehensive sanctions on the country. "Sanctions…transformed a country that in the 1980's was the envy of the developing world in terms of investments in health, education and physical infrastructure into a place where everyone (except the half-million or so members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and their families and cronies) was dependent on United Nations food aid, where infant mortality rates had skyrocketed, educational outcomes had collapsed and diseases that had disappeared were reappearing, sometimes at epidemic levels. (6)."
B. A UNICEF report on infant mortality shows that roughly 500,000 children that could have been expected to live (at least) until their fifth birthdays died as a result of these sanctions because of lack of access to medicines or food (among other items) that had previously been imported. As tactically sound as trade restrictions on wayward nations may seem, they do not justify the collateral damage done.
C. In the case of Iran, which has continued its nuclear development despite the opposition of the international community, "In order for sanctions to be truly effective, they must include measures that focus pressure on the ruling clique and the Revolutionary Guard. The Guards have become one of the largest business interests in the country, involved in all layers and sectors of the economy…sanctions that simply make the lives of the average Iranian more difficult will once again fail to push the government to reconsider its position on the nuclear issue. (7)"
D. Also, many regimes under threat of international sanction are willing to pass on the economic burdens of sanctions to the people, while the policymakers remain relatively unaffected (12).

By damaging a nation's economy, we do harm to the people, not to those who are actually responsible for actions or policies that the sanction-imposing nation feels are flawed. This is a violation of the value of justice—giving people their due—as those affected in these cases cannot be held responsible for the actions of their government (in cases where power is not derived from the consent of the governed).

C 3: The use of economic sanctions harms the economic interests of the nation imposing them without a significant benefit to the nation imposing them. Furthermore, the imposition of sanctions strains ties between the sanction-imposing nations and its allies that do not support the sanction.
A. "[S]anctions have cost American exporters $15 billion to $19 billion in lost annual sales overseas and caused long-term damage to U.S. companies--lost market share and reputations abroad as unreliable suppliers. (3)"
B. "[I]n...Washington, sanctions have a direct cost for local businesses and their employees. 8)." In Washington, wheat and peas grown for export to Iran and Cuba cannot be sold, nor can Boeing sell its planes to other countries because the direct or indirect results of sanctions (8).
C. The US sanctions on Cuba have been condemned yearly since 1992 by the United Nations general assembly as a violation of international law. Such condemnations cause tensions between the US and its allies—the European Union and Mexico, for example (10, 11)."

The lack of benefits to the nation and the people of the nation imposing the sanctions, as well as the damage done to alliances of said country, undermine government legitimacy and thus do not satisfy the value of justice.

In summary, I have shown that economic sanctions are ineffective at reaching their established objectives. In addition, they often fail to affect their intended target, and unjustly affect the innocent. Finally, economic sanctions cause harm to the nations who impose them. All of these factors contradict the value of this round, justice, rendering sanctions objectionable and unjust.

I look forward to my opponent's rebuttal. Thank you.
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to my opponent for competing.

SOR: Economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

I negate the stated resolution and will demonstrate that economic sanctions can be effective, if the definition of success is stated prior to outset of said sanctions.

Value Premise: Political Justification

Value Criterion: Natural rights. An action is politically justified if it is consistent with a given political theory — a theory of the individual, society, and government. The theory most relevant here is one based on natural rights, a state of nature, and a social contract. Many seventeenth and eighteenth century political theorists (e.g., John Locke) adopted this kind of theory, and it dominated the thinking of America's founding fathers (e.g., Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). (source:

C-1: The United Nations, the world's moral conscience, imposes economic sanctions as punishment.
a. Under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Security Council can take enforcement measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures range from economic and/or other sanctions not involving the use of armed force to international military action. The use of mandatory sanctions is intended to apply pressure on a State or entity to comply with the objectives set by the Security Council without resorting to the use of force. Sanctions thus offer the Security Council an important instrument to enforce its decisions. The universal character of the United Nations makes it an especially appropriate body to establish and monitor such measures. The Council has resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed. The range of sanctions has included comprehensive economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions. (source:

b. Bloodshed is avoided and direct intervention is eschewed. ( source: Pros and cons: a debater's handbook By Trevor Sather) By imposing economic sanctions, corrupt leaders are denied resources needed to continue their unjust courses of action and tyranny. Further, this is accomplish without killing others, and avoiding collateral damage as defined by my opponent.

c. As with any endeavor undertaken, economic sanctions should not be employed until success has been defined. (quote from Steven M. Merkel) One can easily generalize that economic sanctions are unsuccessful. They are only unsuccessful if they are not specific or unrealistic. All goals, including economic sanctions must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.

C-2: Natural rights of citizens are selfishly violated by corrupt leaders of governments. This impacts not only the natural rights of citizens from other countries, it also affects the natural rights of their own citizens.

a. Citizens of countries oppressed by economic sanctions suffer when intended relief efforts are suppressed by their own government intercepting supplies. The citizens are never the target, but rather the behaviors of corrupt leaders.

b. Citizens are justified to demand their natural rights which are being denied to them by the very government which is supposed to protect them. When corrupt leaders give in to decency and cooperate, the sanctions go away. Sanctions are nothing more than a legitimate form of punishment to achieve a defined and acceptable code of behavior.


So as to not drop any arguments, I will examine my opponent's case in sequence.

I accept the definitions provided.

VC: Justice. Would justice be better served by war? No, war doesn't actually solve the issue at hand. What other alternatives are there? None have been presented. Therefore, clearly defined economic sanctions are the best form of punishment.

VP: Government Legitimacy. Can a government be legitimate when it is the cause of it's own punishment? According to my opponent , a government is supposed to protect the lives, liberty, and property of her citizens.

C-1: I concur that cloudy economic sanctions are ineffective, that is why they must be clearly defined. When sanctions are used as a form of punishment, the chief trading partners of the offending country should form a united alliance in order to prevent the flow of the items needed to further the cause of conflict.

C-2: The people, who are not the targets, often do suffer. This is a fault of the corrupt government being punished. If sanctions do not produce the intended results, sometimes the people who are suffering will effect a change of leadership.

C-3: The imposing nation(s), may not receive a tangible benefit, but rather an ideological one. It is true that the imposing country(ies) may lose trade with the punished nation, however; that is part of the equation prior to imposing sanctions.

Conclusion: Sanctions are only ineffective if they are not carefully planned, defined, and executed. They not only stimulate diplomacy, but also are the least invasive means and eliminate the necessity of military action. The U.N. uses and endorses this method. My premise of political justification is backed by the sustainment of individual rights. Thank you.


I thank my opponent for his response and look forward to a constructive debate.

I will first attack my opponent's case, then reaffirm my own. Please note that any additional sources will again be posted in the comments.

VP: Political justification. The social contract states that the people give up certain individual liberties in return for certain benefits from the state. In the context of this debate, it is presumed that the sacrificed liberties involve free trade between imposing and offending countries, and that the benefits involve the promotion of natural rights for both parties. However, it has been shown that these purported benefits are negligible, if they exist at all.

VC: Natural rights. My opponent fails to show how the imposition of sanctions promotes the natural rights (life, liberty, property, etc.) of the imposing or offending nations.

C1: The status quo is irrelevant to debate at hand. Claiming that the United Nations is the world's moral conscience is simply an argument from authority and fails to address the resolution, which calls into question whether or not the imposition of sanctions is a duty or moral obligation. It is possible for the UN to wrongly impose sanctions, and it has done so in the past. In the case of Iraq, the imposition of sanctions led to widespread strife and instability, and resulted in violations of natural rights, including loss of life (6).

B. The claim that the imposition of sanctions removes "resources needed to continue unjust courses of action and tyranny" is unfounded. Resources are still available through illegitimate means as well as countries that have not imposed sanctions on the offending country. In the case of Iranian sanctions, there have been multiple instances in which banned exports have made their way into Iran via intermediaries or black markets with relative ease (13).

C. My opponent fails to provide examples in which well-defined sanctions have succeeded at achieving their objectives. Well-defined sanctions might succeed in the hypothetical, but in reality, the impact of these sanctions on the protection of the natural rights of citizens is questionable.

C2: I concur that corrupt leaders infringe upon the natural rights of their constituents, as well as those of citizens of other countries. However, the imposition of sanctions does little to ameliorate the condition of the people, as has been illustrated in the cases of Cuba (1-3), and can exacerbate suffering (6).

A. I concur that the people are never the intended target of economic sanctions, but rather the objectionable actions of their leaders. However, the people are the ones affected by sanctions, not their leaders—sanctions fail to affect their target, and thus fail to effect changes in behavior (6). These affected persons also qualify as collateral damage, per the definition "unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action."

B. I concur that citizens are justified in demanding their natural rights. However, because sanctions are ineffective at securing natural rights and often hinder them, they are not a legitimate form of punishment.


VC: Justice. Military intervention is an alternative to economic sanctions and has (in certain cases – 14) been proven to most effectively achieve the foreign policy objective(s) in question. Uni- and multilateral talks are also viable alternatives. Criminal charges also more specifically target leaders whose governments are involved in the abridgement of natural rights (15).

VP: Government legitimacy. A government is supposed to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens. Both the imposing and offending nations fail to satisfy the criterion of governmental legitimacy, and it has been shown that the use of economic sanctions does not improve governmental legitimacy in either of the two nations.

C1: Well-defined economic sanctions may be effective in the hypothetical; however, my opponent has failed to provide examples in which well-defined sanctions have been actually successful. Even in the face of multilateral sanctions, offending governments have access to resources via black markets. Furthermore, the imposition of multilateral sanctions may strengthen a target's resolve to resist pressure and may be used by governments to inspire popular support in the face of perceived oppression (16, 17).

C2: The suffering of the people is a direct result of the imposition of sanctions. While it is true that the actions of their government are reprehensible, punishment of the people is a violation of justice, as the punishment is due not to them, but to their government.

Historically, the suffering of the people has not been sufficient to effect a change in leadership in the face of economic sanctions (1-3). Indeed, leaders of offending nations often pass the burden of sanctions onto the people.

C3: I would ask my opponent to clarify the meaning of an ideological benefit. I concur that the loss of trade is a consideration before the imposition of sanctions.
The intent of the use of sanctions is to promote the welfare of the people, and I have demonstrated that the usage of sanctions confers no benefit in this regard. By sacrificing trade, the implication is that the people will receive some benefit in return (i.e. increased security), but no such event occurs.

Conclusion: My opponent has failed to provide evidence that sanctions are an effective means of achieving foreign policy objectives. Sanctions do not stimulate diplomacy, but stifle it (16). Furthermore, more effective alternatives to sanctions exist. Sanctions involve a significant amount of collateral damage while failing to promote government legitimacy.

Thank you.
Debate Round No. 2



My Opponent:
2VC: She has implied that military action is preferred over sanctions when diplomacy breaks down, thus killing the people that oppose us politically as opposed to a more conservative form of punishment. This is how she defines justice.

VP: Her second attempt at a criterion appeared irrelevant.

C-1: She concurred that at least in the hypothetical, well defined sanctions can be successful. I did not state that this has been accomplished, I stated that it could be accomplished, to which she agreed.

C-2: I placed the blame of the horrible trickle down effects incurred by the citizens, upon the leaders of the corrupted governments. Sure we all feel badly for the innocent people affected, however; I stated that the blame is on the leadership. This was dropped.

C-3: Ideological benefit is defined as the government placing the sanctions experiencing a satisfaction of feeling a position of authority because they had served a punishment on an offender. The degree of success of the imposed punishment, as deemed by others, is irrelevant. The fact is that a punishment was levelled for a perceived injustice.


Natural rights of citizens are denied when a corrupt leader interrupts the harmonious relations and it becomes necessary to impose sanctions. Further, I extend my VPC in that when the naturals rights of other nations are infringed upon by these corrupt leaders, political justification demands punishment in the least destructive manner after diplomacy has failed.

Economic sanctions are successful if they are clearly defined from the outset. An example may include, but limited to: collaborated refusal to trade for a specified period of time, blocking/inspecting all shipments, and freezing of financial assets for a specified period of time. A successful sanction, as defined by the imposer, could simply be intercepting of an arms shipment. Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, success depends on the terms set by the issuing government.

I concur that corrupt leaders may have the ability to obtain things through illegitimate sources (black market), or even legitimate sources (countries refusing to participate in the sanctions).

Even though the citizens are not the targets yet seem to suffer the most, and further still rarely conduct an uprising, that strengthens my argument. Even if sanctions strengthen the resolve of the corrupt leaders, it does not mean that the sanctions have been unsuccessful unless that is a portion of the definition of success.

I thank my opponent for her argument thus far and await her 2AR. Also thanks to the readers. I request that votes are not all 7 pointers unless they are in fact worthy of the full 7 points.



My Opponent's Case:

I concur that the natural rights of citizens are infringed upon when a corrupt leader interrupts harmonious relations, and that other nations, if their natural rights have been abridged, have the right to attempt to regain said rights. However, I disagree with my opponent's contention, however, that it is "necessary" to impose sanctions. I have demonstrated that alternatives exist to achieve foreign policy objectives. Furthermore, I have demonstrated that economic sanctions have repeatedly failed to achieve foreign policy objectives in the past, and nothing has been presented that indicates that the past failures of economic sanctions will somehow transmute into future successes.

Economic sanctions in the context of this debate are important for their impact upon foreign policy objectives. The success of an economic sanction is not, ergo, a matter of predetermined goals, such as the inspection of x number of ships, but rather its impact upon the policies of the offending nation and how well it protects natural rights and upholds justice.

My opponent claims that the undeserved suffering and oppression of the people supports his case of natural rights—the preservation of life, liberty, and property. We do not preserve the lives of the citizens by restricting medical supplies (such as in the case of Iraq). We do not free the people by strengthening the resolve of their corrupt leaders to cling to power. My opponent concurs that the people are not to blame for the policies of their corrupt leaders—how, then, is it just that the bulk of our punishments affect them? It is not just. We are not preserving natural rights; we are persecuting them.


2VC: My opponent claimed that no alternatives had been presented to economic sanctions, and that they were therefore the best method of achieving foreign policy objectives. Military action is but one option is a list that I provided, and should, in my view, be used only if necessary—that is, if all options on that list have been exhausted. Indictments by international criminal courts, like those used for Rwanda or Kosovo, for example, would be an option in cases of humanitarian abuses. War is emphatically not the only option, and it has never been an implication that military action always be considered as the most effective way of achieving foreign policy objectives.

VP: I have defined government legitimacy as that of a government fulfilling its role to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its citizens. The imposition of sanctions fails to improve the government legitimacy of either the imposing or offending nations, as foreign policy objectives are not achieved in the former and policy changes are not effected in the latter. Because economic sanctions do not uphold government legitimacy, other options (as discussed previously) should be pursued.

C1: I concurred that in a hypothetical situation, well-defined economic sanctions might succeed at their objectives. However, as my opponent says, there is no evidence that well-defined economic sanctions have succeeded at their objectives—this all exists purely in the realm of conjecture. Hypothetical situations have no bearing on foreign policy in the real world. Constructs that appear sound in theory have no basis in reality. There is no evidence that these well-defined sanctions would achieve foreign policy objectives, or that they would give the people their due, or that they would protect the rights of the people.

C2: I concur that corrupt leaders are responsible for the punishment, not the people. The fact remains that it is the people, not their leaders, who are being punished. This is a flagrant violation of justice and their rights.

I stated that because the people suffer as a result of sanctions, though they are not at fault (a fact with which my opponent concurred), they are collateral damage. The imposition of sanctions is thus at odds with my value criterion.

C3: An ideological benefit is unimportant in the context of this debate. The resolution specifically addresses the imposition of sanctions to achieve foreign policy objectives. A sanction that serves a purely ideological benefit—one of perceived moral superiority or the like—has no impact upon our rights. It does not give us what we are due—it does not make our lives any safer, nor does it make the lives of those living in offending countries any freer.

Conclusion: I have shown that economic sanctions are unsuccessful at achieving foreign policy objectives, and that their use fails to protect natural rights or justice. In addition, the use of sanctions violates my value criterion of a lack of collateral damage in that sanctions cause harm to those who are not at fault for the policies in question. For these reasons, I reaffirm that economic sanctions ought not be used to achieve foreign policy objectives.

I thank my opponent for his constructive debate and the readers for their interest and comments. I now present the issue to the readers for voting. Thank you.
Debate Round No. 3
30 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by GIjanedebate 6 years ago
Hey I have a quick question. more of asking opinion but would you think that achievement and effectiveness be too close to use as two different criterion
Posted by tochter_aus_elysium 6 years ago
Anytime. I'm sure you'll do fine.
Posted by GIjanedebate 6 years ago
Thanks! I'm nervous a heck! :D
Posted by tochter_aus_elysium 6 years ago
All of my sources are from the free web--it's nothing you couldn't find yourself, I'm sure. Have fun, and good luck!
Posted by GIjanedebate 6 years ago
Hey! Good debate! Pro just wanted to let you know that I will be using some of your sources if thats ok?!? It's funny our first contentions are the same XD i totally didn't realize that so thats why i would like to use your sources. Is that all good?
Posted by Yoguy-107 6 years ago
man seriously?! why would people plagiarize others hard work. it doesnt take that long to write a case if you have the evidence.
Posted by ace4base 6 years ago
hahaha I was checking through your sources, and I realized you (tochter) and I were using the same Cato page. gotta love google. smashingly good debate though. really.
Posted by nhq 6 years ago
Well thank you! I was searching for evidence for my second contention - something about the imposing country harming its own economy when I found this debate. This site seems really interesting; online debating is an interesting concept, but I wasn't sure if it was acceptable to use someone else's source without their permission.
Posted by tochter_aus_elysium 6 years ago
I can't speak for twsurber, but I have no objections to evidence use--I mean, it's all from the free web, iirc, so it's not like I could stop you from following the url anyways. Plus, knowledge is power, and all that, and I have no issues with spreading the knowledge. Or the info, anyways.
Posted by nhq 6 years ago
I agree that its really dumb to use someone else's case. If you can't write your own speech, then why debate at all? that being said, do you mind if I uses the same evidence as you? I saw a piece of evidence that I really thought was good (about the loss of GDP), and I'm wondering if I can use it in my own case.
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Vote Placed by twsurber 6 years ago
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Vote Placed by tochter_aus_elysium 6 years ago
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