Economic Sanctions, conditional on the severity of the coercion, might cause significant civilian pain by worsening public health conditions, economic well-being, and physical security of the populace in target countries. Assess the morality of Economic Sanctions. (150 W/ 10 M)

Mentor’s Comment:

Explain about the Economic Sanction in general and how it affects general public life making it vulnerable. The sanctions usually involve Positive incentive and Negative sanctions.

Next, mention about the morality of economic sanctions based on the values of just cause, right intensions, limited objective, last resorts, discrimination and proportionality etc.

Next, bring conclusion based on your content.


Model Answer:

Economic sanctions involve the politically motivated withdrawal of customary trade or financial relations from a state, organisation or individual.  They may be imposed by the United Nations, regional governmental organisations such as the European Union, or by states acting alone.

Usually they involve:

  • Positive incentive carrot , designed to induce or reward desirable behaviour. Reward might be in the form of increase in foreign aid, loans at concessional rates, preferential treatment, etc.
  • Negative sanctions stick , designed to punish state for undesirable behaviour. It could be in the form of reduction in aid, selected, quotas, curtailing or halting foreign investment, ban on technology transfer, etc.

Morality of sanctions

  • According to some thinkers sanctions are indeed a form of violence.
  • Many thinkers says that they are morally dubious.
  • One of the most influential anti-apartheid activist highlighted the morally problematic nature of economic sanctions because they imposed great hardship on poor blacks.
  • For assessing the morality of economic sanctions some ethicist have suggested certain criteria on the basis of we can evaluate their moral standards, such as:

Just cause

  • Promoting peace
  • Protecting human rights and human dignity

Right intention

  • They are not justified to increase national power and extend economic influence

Limited objective

  • Targeting only those behaviour and institutions which are unjust

Last resort

  • Only when peaceful negotiation have been exhausted


  • They must not target innocent people
  • Must target government and those who are supporting
  • It is the most important yet most morally challenging principle because most of the sanctions were unable to fulfill this criteria.
  • When comprehensive sanctions were imposed the hardship typically falls disproportionately on poor people.
  • For example – when comprehensive sanctions were imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990, great suffering fell on innocent people.


  • The good intended from sanctions must be proportional to the harm inflicted on the target state.
  • Thus above mentioned criteria are useful in assessing whether any economic sanctions imposed by State is morally right or questionable.

Economic tools in the form of sanctions continue to be important tool in the foreign policy. Their importance is further enhanced by the fact that they are preferable to war because war is more destructive. But still they are morally problematic not only because they rarely achieve desired political results but also they impose great hardships on innocent civilians.