Commitment or Flexibility

Congress and the Foreign Policy of Sanctions

In this paper, we study how Congress makes its voice heard in American foreign policy in the area of economic statecraft.  Unlike the President, who can alter sanctions policy with the stroke of a pen, Congress cannot change legislation easily in the face of difficult to anticipate future contingencies.   This disadvantage is also useful,  as it may commit the executive to enforce sanctions and thus maximize compliance.   The price is reduced policy flexibility. But enforcement opt-outs can alleviate the price tag, while reporting requirements keep the President in check.  We derive predictions about the congressional design of sanctions and spell out the implications for policy.  We test some of these predictions on a novel corpus of government documents of American economic sanctions.  We are more sanguine about the role of the legislature than previous scholarship, and we conclude by noting why previous conclusions may have been overly pessimistic - and how to identify the true impact of sanctions.

This is one of the first projects to arise from our SASCAT data-collection.  It will be presented at APSA 2019, and a SSRN link will be posted here.  With: J Tama, A Elshehawy, F Nanni.

Picture: Turkish Air Force celebration.  

Context: In July 2019, Turkey began receiving shipments of an advanced missile system from a Russian entity on a sanctions list kept by the U.S. Secretary of State. The creation of this list was mandated by a law enacted by the U.S. Congress to isolate Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  Turkey should face sanctions, and if the President is seen as soft in imposing them, Congress may intercede.  Turkey, and other states, are watching the U.S. reaction, and will determine future policies with it in mind.  The U.S. started reducing cooperation on a multi-mullion dollar program involving the F-35 advanced jet, sending many training pilots home to Turkey.

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