Economic Sanctions: Pre-World War II Through Cold War

  • David W. Hunter


In 1925, British Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain stated in the League of Nations: ‘The great advantage of economic sanctions, is … they do not involve the resort to force.’1 The commonly held view was that economic sanctions were the perfect weapon to pressure states into compliance without blood being spilt or lives lost. By 1980, however, Adler-Karlsson had reached a different conclusion: economic sanctions as instruments of foreign policy almost never worked.2


Foreign Policy National Security North Atlantic Treaty Organization Economic Sanction Foreign Assistance 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    League of Nations, Official Journal, Records of the Council (April 1925) pp. 447–50.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    G. Adler-Karlsson, ‘The US Embargo, Inefficient and Counterproductive,’ Aussenwir tschaft (June 1980).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    J.E.S. Fawcett, The Law of Nations (London: Allen Lane, 1968), p. 129, says Japan insisted that her Manchurian adventure was not a war, but only an operation to ‘bring order’ to China — ironically, China was forced to accept this definition for a different reason, namely, to avoid the U.S. Neutrality Act which in time of war precluded the large shipments of U.S. military aid to China needed to fight the Japanese. In the Greco-Bulgarian dispute of 1925, and the Bolivia-Paraguay dispute of 1932, the League also did not involve the definition ‘resorts to war’ under Article 16’s provisions for imposing sanctions.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See P.A. Reynolds, British Foreign Policy in the Inter-War Years (Plymouth, England: Longmans, Green and Co., 1954) p. 113.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    D. Vare, ‘British Foreign Policy through Italian Eyes,’ International Affairs (January–February 1936) p.91.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See G. Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967) p. 326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War, p. 331.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    ‘Either because Paris or London did not wish to upset the Fascist regime, or because they wished to avoid any risk of war whatever, only those sanctions that could neither paralyze Italy nor provoke a military rejoinder from her were applied,’ says Raymond Aron, Peace and War, English edn (London: Doubleday, 1966), p. 114.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War, p. 374.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War, p. 100.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    H. Bull, The Anarchical Society (London: Macmillan, 1977) p. 144, says: ‘From the point of view of the balance of power … the effect of sanctions against Italy was simply that Italy would be driven into the arms of Germany.’CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    As E.H. Carr so aptly phrased it: ‘In sanctions, as in war, the only motto is ‘all or nothing,’ and economic power is impotent if the military weapon is not held in readiness to support it.’ See E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis (London: Macmillan, 1939) p. 164.Google Scholar
  13. In his footnotes, Carr speculated that what paralyzed the League sanctions was the common knowledge that the League powers were not prepared to use the military weapon. This is echoed by Baer, The Coming of the Italian-Ethiopian War, p. 325, who observes that in their secret talks of 10 and 11 September 1935, Hoare and Laval agreed war against Italy was simply too high a price to pay for the protection of Ethiopia, under the existing conditions, for maintenance of the universality of the League covenant.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Halsbury’s Statutes, Vol. 38, p. 296.Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    See W.N. Medlicott, The Economic Blockade, Vols I and II (London: HMSO, 1952, 1959) for a full account of wartime embargo activities.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    R.S. Cline, Secrets, Spies and Scholars (Washington, D.C: Acropolis Books, 1976), p. 143.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Declassified Documents Quarterly, NSC 1980, 4th Qtr., p. 377-B, Appendix B, ‘List of Actions by the National Security Council.’Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Summary of the 39th Meeting of the NSC (5 May 1949),Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    See testimony of K. Hanson, in Hearings before Subcommittee on Foreign Economic Policy, Committee on Foreign Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 83rd Congress, 2nd Session (16 February 1954) p. 32.Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    See Sect 1304 of P.L. 843, effective 7 September 1950 (Cannon Arndt); and Sect 1302 of P.L. 45, effective 2 June 1951 (Kern Arndt); and Sects 103(b), 104 and 5, 202 and 3, of the Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act of 1951 (Battle Act).Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    For a brief discussion on the creation of COCOM, see G. Adler-Karlsson, Western Economic Warfare, 1947–1967 (Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1968) pp. 51–2.Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    As contained in a declassified report prepared by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, entitled ‘The U.S. Position on China Trade Controls,’ 9 April 1956, Tab D, ‘Diagram on the Organization of Consultative Group, COCOM and CHINCOM.’Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    For an indepth look at this whole period, see D.W. Folts, ‘The Role of President and Congress in the Formulation of U.S. Economic Policy Towards the Soviet Union, 1947–1968,’ Ph.D. Dissertation, Notre Dame University (1971).Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    Export Administration: Annual Report, FY80 (Washington, D.C: GPO, 1980), p. 33.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    Keesing’s Contemporary Archives (20–27 March 1954) p. 13478A.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    D.W. Folts, ‘The Role of President and Congress in the Formulation of U.S. Economic Policy Towards the Soviet Union, 1947–1968,’ p. 102.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    The arguments for rapid Soviet economic growth ignore the fact this was attributable to ‘extensive’ rather than ‘intensive’ development. The Soviets had a large pool of underutilized labour, plentiful raw materials, and a lack of technical development. The growth rate fell once the USSR entered a phase where it had to utilize higher intensity production methods, and qualitative improvements in technology.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    Declassified memorandum to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (22 May 1956) ‘Status Report on CHINCOM-COCOM,’ p. 3.Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    ‘Status Report on CHINCOM-COCOM,’ p. 4.Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    Susan Strange, ‘The Strategic Trade Embargo: Sense or Nonsense?,’ The Yearbook of World Affairs, Vol. 12 (London: Stevens and Sons, Ltd, 1958).Google Scholar
  31. 30.
    Declassified memorandum to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (5 October 1956) ‘Informal Comments on Department of State Progress Report on “Multilateral Export Controls on Trade with Communist China”’ p. 2.Google Scholar
  32. 31.
    What constitutes a strategic commodity continues to be a matter of dispute within the Western Alliance. One view is that only goods which have direct military applications should be seen as strategic; a second view is that dual-use items (which may be used for both peaceful and aggressive purposes) should be defined as strategic depending on the political relations with the purchaser; and a third view, now less widely supported, is that any product which strengthens the economy of a potential adversary should be treated as strategic (the so-called economic warfare model).Google Scholar

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© David William Hunter 1991

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  • David W. Hunter

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