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Coercive diplomacy in global governance: The role of sanctions

11/10/2013, Rome

On 11 October 2013 a kick-off meeting of the project “Coercive diplomacy in global governance: the role of sanctions” has been held at the Institute of International Affairs (IAI) in Rome. The three-year project will concern the role of sanctions as part of coercive diplomacy. In fact, there is a long practice in international relations of using sanctions in confrontational or semi-confrontational situations or where a certain state or actor should be brought into respecting international law. Therefore, the proposed research aims to explore whether it is possible to reach a common understanding of different views on economic and political coercion, by reconciling international law and international relations perspectives. The project will be coordinated by the Institute of International Affairs and the University of Kiel, with a view to involve a large number of experts from around the world.

As clarified by Joachim Krause, Professor at the University of Kiel, in the first session of the kick-off meeting, when the international community speaks of international sanctions it refers to “coercive measures adopted by a country or a group of countries or by international organizations against a state or individual(s) or organization(s) in order to elicit a change in their behavior or to weaken their stand in an overall antagonistic situation”.

Natalino Ronzitti, Emeritus Professor of International Law at LUISS University of Rome and an advisory expert for IAI, focused on the legitimacy of sanctions, pointing out that sanctions can be imposed or recommended. Fundamental is also the question about who is possibly competent to impose sanctions: the Security Council only or even states (both a single state and a group of states) or other international and regional organizations acting independently from the Security Council and without violating international law. Finally, Professor Ronzitti made reference to problems relevant for international trade, referring particularly to corporations’ concerns about the contracts that they have entered into and that terminate when a state is hit by sanctions or the implementation of sanctions outside a state, namely the “extraterritorial effects” of sanctions.

Nicoletta Pirozzi, Senior fellow at the IAI, explained that the role of sanctions will be investigated both from the legal and the political point of view in three main clusters: (1) legal aspects, (2) governance issues in planning and implementation of sanctions regimes and (3) substance and effects of sanctions. Four main case studies have been identified: Iran (2006-ongoing), Iraq (1991-2003), Lybia (2011-2012) and North Korea (2006-ongoing).

The idea is to produce a number of policy-oriented papers in the course of the project, which will be presented in a series of events in Europe and the United States and then collected in a series of publications.

Four main elements have emerged from the discussion at the end of the first session as essential components of the forthcoming project.
- The starting point should be the definition and differentiation of sanctions: attention should be paid on which specific type of sanctions we are talking about.
- Secondly, the flexibility of this particular instrument of coercive diplomacy should be taken into account in order to offer some analysis on how sanctions can be applied and modulated.
- It is also important to introduce the distinction between effectiveness and efficiency: sanctions must be effective, which means that they have to produce the desired result, but it is also necessary that this result is achieved in an efficient manner, that is, creating the least amount of “inconvenience” for the subjects affected by sanctions themselves.
- Finally, special attention should be devoted to the relevant actors in the private sector, beyond states and regional and international organizations. In most of the cases, even when we sanction states like Iran or Syria, we also hit individuals, we also hit companies. Therefore, there is a need of cooperation with private actors, both in terms of information-sharing and partnership in implementation.

The debate was followed by the presentations of four participants.

Daniel H. Joiner, Professor at Alabama School of Law, started his speech talking about what rules of international law limit states’ ability to impose sanctions both in multilateral (i.e. United Nations Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter) or unilateral way. In particular in the modern context, sanctions have become the default way used by powerful states against less powerful states. However, there are important principles to be taken into account in their implementation. First of all proportionality, which is a principle of customary international law and it applies even when the Security Council acts. Secondly, it is to remind the principle of reasonable discrimination in order not to hit the civilian population.

Tom Coppen, Researcher at the Centre of Conflict and Security Law and PhD candidate at Utrecht University, discussed the role that the economic sanctions can play in relation to arms control, particularly in supervising compliance with arms control agreements. Specifically, the threat of imposing sanctions is considered to be positive in order to promote the observance of the treaties by the states. Actually, another approach to ensure compliance is enforcement, but, as underlined, there is a certain criticism about it among international scholars. Instead, a different approach is the cooperative one. It involves the spontaneous fulfillment of the obligations under the Treaties and implies the willingness of the states to comply with them, which is not always easy to achieve.

Kristen Boon, Visiting Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute of Washington D.C. and professor at Seton Hall Law School, addressed the role of United Nations Security Council in conflict situations in the African context, specifying that it has applied sanctions in about 50% of active conflicts between 1999-2010. She said that, as confirmed by a report by the International Peace Institute, the prevention management and the resolution of civil wars still constitute the core element of the contemporary agenda of the Security Council. Moreover, Prof. Boon’s analysis focused on the use of membership of regional and international organizations as an instrument to sanction the behavior of member countries and the duration of sanctions as an indicator of the effectiveness of the chosen solution.

Marco Gestri, Professor at University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, illustrated the European Union’s sanctions system, pointing out that there is an increasing use of sanctions, both adopted in application of United Nations Security Council resolutions (for instance, against Al-Qaeda) and autonomously by the European Union (e.g. Syria). In other cases, the European Union, in implementing United Nations sanctions, has autonomously decided to introduce additional restrictive measures or simply to add other kinds of sanctions. Prof. Gestri also stressed that the most important legal problem concerning European Union’s sanctions has to do with the procedure for their adoption: under European Union law, every action adopted by the Union (and then including the imposition of sanctions) must rely on a specific legal basis in the Treaties. The Treaty on European Union (TEU) refers to this as the “principle of conferral”, stating that under it, «the Union shall act only within the limits of the competences conferred upon it by the Member States in the Treaties to attain the objectives set out there in» (art. 5 TEU).

The recommendations emerged during the kick-off meeting will be incorporated in the project activities and the group of experts convened in Rome will resume again in 2014.

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