opinion | The United States is the only sanctioned superpower. He must use that power wisely.

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opinion | The United States is the only sanctioned superpower. He must use that power wisely.

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Often, US officials treat these rules as an obstacle that prevents them from taking strong action. Yet these restrictions provide America with a strategic advantage: they give foreign countries and businesses some reason for trust. When the US gives in to the temptation to weaken these protections, such as when the Trump administration threatened to freeze Iraq’s accounts with the New York Federal Reserve after calling for US troops to withdraw in 2020, it undermines strategic interest. long-term of the United States.

Exceeding, therefore, is the most immediate threat. No one expected the series of sanctions, designations, technological controls and asset freezes to be assembled so quickly or on such a scale. There is now an almost palpable air of vertigo among policymakers. Each day brings new restrictions based on each other. European officials thought they could use this new form of economic warfare to “overthrow” Putin’s regime or “bring about the collapse” of the Russian economy.

These claims were hastily cleared up, but they illustrate a deeper danger. As a new book by historian Nicholas Mulder points out, the “economic weapon” of sanctions and blockades does not work as predictably or effectively as its supporters imagine. The more powerful the sanctions, the greater the danger of them leading to an unpredictable response. As Mr. Mulder demonstrates, fears of sanctions helped propel Nazi Germany’s territorial ambitions. More recently, when Iran felt heavily crushed by sanctions, it was accused of attacking shipping through the Strait of Hormuz, a key point in the global energy economy. The closer the Putin regime comes to collapse, the more likely it is to lash out.

This does not mean that the United States and its allies should stop using their control of global economic networks as a weapon. This is one of the few means they can use responsibly against a nuclear power in an unprovoked war.

But their measures should be tough enough to achieve specific goals: to protect Ukraine’s independence and limit, to the greatest extent possible, Russia’s aggressive conquests.

The minimum to reassure other countries and avoid escalation is to stress that the measures are not aimed at provoking regime change in Russia. America may also need to adjust and recalibrate sanctions to contain economic fallout and unexpected consequences for allies, as it did in 2018 when US sanctions against Oleg Deripaska threatened to disrupt aluminum supply chains in Europe. .

Similar adjustments should aim to prevent large-scale human suffering in Russia and elsewhere. Negative economic restraints need to be balanced with positive economic aid to countries at risk of starvation. The United States should also explicitly define the circumstances under which the executive branch will apply such economic measures, the range of permitted goals they can achieve, the review procedures that will ensure they are proportionate, and the circumstances under which they will be withdrawn.

These commitments will help minimize the very real risk of future economic conflict turning violent. Many once thought that an interdependent world economy prevented war. It would be really bitter if it provoked war instead.

Henry J. Farrell of Johns Hopkins and Abraham L. Newman of Georgetown are professors of international affairs and the authors of the next book “Underground Empire”.

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