Economic sanctions and official ethnic discrimination in target countries, 1950–2003


Conventional studies on the consequences of sanctions tend to focus on the target society as a whole without specifying how foreign economic pressures might affect the well-being of vulnerable groups within target countries – the same groups who often disproportionately bear the burden of sanctions. This study explores the extent to which sanctions increase the likelihood of discriminatory government practices against one of the globally most vulnerable groups, ethnic groups. It is argued that sanctions contribute to the rise of official ethnic-based economic and political discrimination through contracting the economy and creating incentives for the target government to employ ethnic-based discriminatory policies. Using data on over 900 ethnic groups from 1950 to 2003, the results lend support for the theoretical claim that sanctions prompt the government to pursue ethnic-based discriminatory economic and political practices in multiethnic countries. The findings also indicate that multilateral sanctions are likely to be more harmful to the well-being of ethnic groups than sanctions levied by individual countries. Further, the negative effect of comprehensive sanctions appears to be greater than that of sanctions with moderate and limited impact on the target economy. The regime type of the target state, on the other hand, appears to have a significant role only in conditioning the hypothesized effect of sanctions on economic discrimination. Overall, this study’s focus on a vulnerable segment of the target society – ethnic groups – offers a greater understanding of the consequences of sanctions. It also provides additional insight as to how, in multiethnic countries, political elites might domestically respond to external pressures to retain power.

Publication Title

Defence and Peace Economics