LENS Essay Series: “Keeping the Dollar King: The Impact of Economic Sanctions on American National Security”

Can economic sanctions really work?  Is the U.S. as effective as it might be when it finds itself needing to utilize what might be called a “financial warfare” strategy?  In the latest addition to LENS’ online Essays on Law, Ethics and National Security Series, Duke Law’s Molly Byman explains how and why America can and, really, must do better in this arena.

Ms. Byman’s article “Keeping the Dollar King: The Impact of Economic Sanctions on American National Security,” dissects the U.S.’ current sanctions’ regime.  Molly shows what works and why, what doesn’t work and why, and offers ideas as to how to optimize what should be a powerful U.S. advantage.  

You won’t be surprised to learn that Molly was a top student in Duke Law’s National Security Law course last semester.  Like many of her classmates (including Jesse Ruth whose essay we featured earlier this week), she readily understood that in a dangerous world the U.S.’ national security involves more than just the military piece; policymakers must also have a keen understanding of other tools, to include particularly financial instruments.

Again, to read her full essay, just click on the title: “Keeping the Dollar King: The Impact of Economic Sanctions on American National Security.  (Additionally, you can find it and the other fascinating essays in the series here).

Here’s the abstract of Molly’s superb article:

This paper argues that the United States’ increased use of economic sanctions against international actors is short-sighted and is making the United States, and the U.S. dollar, less powerful and less secure. Sanctions are most successful when issued as a short-term tool, in tandem with other strategies, and in pursuit of a clear and attainable goal (like the release of a prisoner), but U.S. presidents have been increasingly using sanctions for political gain. This has had the effect of invigorating international bankers to find viable alternatives to the U.S.-led financial system, which would decrease the U.S.’s global financial power, which could in turn lead to other political consequences.

This paper compiles research on sanctions generally and on recent American sanctions issuances in order to draw attention to this threat and to identify ways the United States could better execute financial warfare. It first briefly describes the global financial structure, with special attention to the United States’ currently dominant role at the helm of this system. It then goes on to define financial warfare with a focus on the U.S.’s use of economic sanctions, highlighting the recent rounds of sanctions against Iran as an example. The paper then turns to the efficacy of sanctions, analyzing factors that make sanctions more or less likely to be effective and comparing examples of U.S. sanctions against Iran, South Africa, and North Korea.

Lastly, this paper makes the argument that the current sanctions regimes are making the United States more or less secure by analyzing the issue in three sub-parts: (1) domestic and international public opinion regarding U.S.-imposed sanctions, (2) how current U.S. sanctions policies are triggering changes to the global financial system, and (3) recommendations on how to use sanctions more effectively. The paper concludes by reiterating the importance of sanctions as a foreign policy tool and emphasizing that the U.S. should be careful with this weapon, reserving sanctions as a multilateral tool to enforce collective norms.

About the author:

Molly Byman is a third-year law student at Duke Law. She is a mentor for first-year law students, the former Director of Legal Services of the Consumer Law Society, and a member of the Health Care Planning Project at Duke.

Prior to law school, Molly graduated from Boston College with a B.A. in International Studies and then taught middle school Special Education through Teach For America in San Antonio, TX, and 8th grade English in Lawrence, MA.

Molly was born and raised in Massachusetts but is an avid traveler. While at BC, she studied abroad in Arusha, Tanzania and spent a semester learning Kiswahili, observing trials at the United Nations Tribunal for Rwanda, and volunteering at a girls’ school. At Duke Law, her focus is corporate law, but she appreciates the freedom Duke Law offers its students to explore and connect passions. Last summer, she worked at Sidley Austin LLP in Dallas, TX and plans to return to Texas following graduation.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!

You may also like...