LENS Essay Series: “Through a New Lens: Using Vitoria’s Work to Recontextualize Economic Sanctions and the Use of Force”

Today’s post is by Andrew Parco, the first student from the University of North Carolina School of Law selected to participate in the LENS Essay Series.  I met Andrew when he took my course “Use of Force in International Law: Cyber, Drones, Hostage Rescues, Piracy, and more” here at Duke Law through the inter-institutional program.

Andrew’s fascinating article, “Through a New Lens: Using Vitoria’s Work to Recontextualize  Economic Sanctions and the Use of Force”, is an extremely thoughtful examination of tool that is increasingly used by the U.S. and many other countries: economic sanctions.  What makes Andrew’s work so unique and original is that he orients his analysis through the work of Francisco de Vitoria.

Who was Francisco de Vitoria?  The Britannica tells us that Vitoria, (1486-1546), was a “Spanish theologian best remembered for his defense of the rights of the Indians of the New World against Spanish colonists and for his ideas of the limitations of justifiable warfare.”

Here’s the abstract of Andrew’s article;

Economic sanctions form a key component of American foreign policy, but they are not without controversy. Critics accuse them of ineffectiveness and disproportionality, and they have been likened to a use of force.

To shed light on the debated legal status of sanctions, scholars and practitioners can turn to the work of founding thinkers in international law. Francisco de Vitoria, a sixteenth century Spanish jurist, was one such torchbearer. Even though his reputation is marred by his complicity in colonialism, Vitoria’s lecture on economic coercion and religious conversion can be applied to modern sanctions.

This analogy serves to recontextualize the lawfulness of sanctions through Vitoria’s lens with an emphasis on moderation and intent. While he does not equate financial restrictions with a use of force, Vitoria draws a linkage between the two that indicates a close and relevant connection.

These findings can then be applied to sanctions regimes which have been levied against Russia, China, and the Middle East. In sum, this paper seeks to facilitate an ever-evolving understanding of Vitoria’s legacy by applying his work to pressing modern questions on the legality of economic sanctions.

Andrew finds that:

While Vitoria has long been recognized as a founding jurist in international law, he continues to shape the field today.  Analogized to sanctions, his lectures offer novel considerations for an updated analysis of economic coercion.  They recontextualize sanctions within the existing scholarship and link economic restrictions to the use of force.  But this reexamination of his work raises additional topics for exploration.  How far can these analogies extend, and what are their limitations?  In what other areas could Vitoria be invoked—or refuted—such as human rights law, national security law, or military law?  Through a closer assessment of Vitoria’s work, scholars can gain a wider understanding of economic sanctions and their place in international law.

This is a real work of scholarship that will give you a fresh perspective on economic sanctions.  You can find the essay here.

About the author:

Andrew Parco (J.D. 2025) is a second-year student at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Hailing from Orange County, California, he graduated from the George Washington University magna cum laude with a B.A. in Political Communication. He spent his 1L summer at the U.S. Department of Justice with the Public Integrity Section, and last fall, he worked as a legal extern at the North Carolina Department of Justice in the Solicitor General’s Office. For his 2L summer, he will intern with the U.S. Army in Vicenza, Italy. Andrew is the Publication Editor for Volume 103 of the North Carolina Law Review and serves on the executive board of the Carolina Public Interest Law Organization.

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



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