Rethinking economic “sanctions”

Shmuel Nili*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What do democracies do by refusing to trade with dictatorships? The conventional view assumes that: (1) a democratic refusal to trade with dictators is an exception that requires special justification; (2) following customary international law, dictators should normally be recognized as legitimate in selling their peoples’ resources; (3) a refusal to trade is one policy option which democratic governments may choose; and (4) a refusal to trade succeeds only when contributing to change in the “target” country. Focusing on natural resource trade, I develop an alternative view which holds that: (1) democracies owe no special justification for refusing to trade; (2) dictators have no right to sell their peoples’ natural resources; and (3) democratic refusal to purchase natural resources from dictators should be the norm. It follows that (4) such refusal achieves an important moral goal simply by preventing corporations based in democratic countries from partaking in crime.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)635-654
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Studies Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • International law
  • Natural resources
  • Normative IR
  • Resource curse
  • Sanctions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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