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Good Question: Do Sanctions Work?

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(credit: CBS) John Lauritsen
John Lauritsen is a reporter from Montevideo, Minn. He joined WCCO-...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – President Obama has imposed new sanctions against Russia for failing to end the conflict in Ukraine.

The goal is to weaken Russia’s economy and to get President Putin’s attention.

“On top of the sanctions we’ve already imposed we are therefore designating selected sectors of the Russian economy as eligible for sanctions,” President Obama said during a press conference last Wednesday.

It may not sound like it, but those are fighting words. Not in the military sense, but instead an attack on Russian pocketbooks.

It’s not the Cold War all over again. But the U.S. is freezing the assets of some Russian defense companies, and blocking new financing of some of Russia’s most powerful banks and energy companies.

“If you can’t borrow U.S. dollars, that’s a real problem in the world today,” Andy Aoki, a political professor, said.

Aoki is a political professor at Augsburg College. He said the sanctions against Russia won’t hurt short-term, but with a struggling economy they’ll make a statement over time.

“The hope is that it will cause enough pain over the long run that they’ll start to change their behavior,” Aoki said.

Russia isn’t alone. The U.S. has tried this tactic with a lot of countries over the years including Cuba, Iran, and North Korea to name a few. In most cases, the U.S. is targeting the other country’s economy.

“It definitely causes pain to some,” Aoki said of U.S. sanctions.

But how much is debatable.

Aoki said sanctions against Cuba have been in place for more than 50 years. But since the goal was to drive out Castro and turn Cuba into a democracy, they haven’t worked.

In other cases, Aoki said historically sanctions work better when the relationship is better.

“Some point to some of our allies, Taiwan and South Korea, where sanctions appear to deterred them from developing nuclear weapons,” Aoki said.

Aoki said sanctions and embargoes have become more common in recent years.

He said the reason is because it’s a better alternative than going to war.

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