NSF Grant


Marinov and Jordan Tama (AU) are applying for a three-year grant to the NSF.  

The Crafting of American Economic Sanctions: U.S. Statements and Actions on Sanctions, Computer-Assisted-Text Approach (US SASCAT) 


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 list exists because of a law enacted by the U.S. Congress to isolate Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  As of this writing, U.S. members of Congress are pressuring the President to enforce this law by imposing sanctions on Turkey. Future policies of Turkey, Russia, and other countries may be influenced by how this inter-branch interaction plays out.

Such interactions between Congress and the Presidency structure and shape U.S. economic sanctions, a policy between words and war that is  central to international politics.  
How does the separation of powers between the branches influence the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to exert economic pressure internationally? We argue that the ability of the United States to meet its national security needs and advance global norms depends in part on striking the right balance between commitment and flexibility in the design of sanctions, which in turn shapes how the policy is enforced. As part of our grant, we will further develop and test ideas regarding the relationship between such features of sanctions design and sanctions outcomes.  Empirically, we showcase a proof-of-concept study which employs the novel approach of collecting government documents directly, thereby generating more comprehensive and fine-grained information.  We will use the complete corpus of U.S. government sanctions documents to produce a variety of publications in scholarly journals, academic presses, and policy-oriented outlets.  

Intellectual Merit

Existing approaches tend to treat sanctions policy as the product of a single decision-maker and view sanctioning  states, by implication, as unitary actors.  Yet, modern bureaucratic states divide policy-making among different branches of government.  Democratic states do so in a manner meant to have different branches of government check each other, while maintaining the public's support.    Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States, the world's preeminent sanctioner.   The U.S. Constitution allows both the legislative and executive branch to shape foreign policy.  To the extent scholars have previously considered the role of Congress in sanctions policy, they have mostly viewed it in a negative light, highlighting how veto players make negotiations difficult, partisan divisions signal weakness, or special-interest groups push policy in parochial directions.  

Novel in our approach is that we see the legislative process a source of coercive strength. Laws can act as commitment devices, helping the U.S. pursue broad-based objectives in international politics and promote global norms of behavior – on issues including private-property and market rules, human rights, and nuclear non-proliferation. At the same time, effectiveness may require that legislators provide the executive branch with the flexibility needed to adapt policy to changing circumstances, and the President may demand such flexibility in legislative negotiations. We investigate how sanctions policy reflects these competing imperatives of commitment and flexibility. We also examine how different design choices involving these and other trade-offs influence the effects and effectiveness of sanctions policy. 

Broader Impact

Economic sanctions continue be the preferred response to any number of global `bads', including terrorism, weapons proliferation, and human rights violations.  Robust interest among the policy community and mass media in whether economic sanctions work reflects concerns about the serious issues prompting sanctions and the policy's cost, especially in the developing world.  Our research will allow for novel answers to be given, and new questions to be asked, about the design and effects of U.S. economic sanctions.  Policy makers will be able to apply our findings as they seek to design effective sanctions policies, thereby potentially contributing to global welfare and U.S. national security. Our data should also catalyze interest in adapting the method to other sanctioning entities, including the United Nations and other countries.  We will make the data publicly available and seek to engage other scholars, students, policy makers, and the wider citizen community to promote synergistic developments and raise awareness of the findings.