The View

Economic sanctions becoming important weapon in military conflicts


Published March 10, 2022

Elena McLean.
“The most severe sanctions can rival military conflict in the scale of economic and human costs they can generate. ”
Elena McLean, associate professor
Department of Political Science

As a response to the invasion of Ukraine, the United States and European Union have imposed unprecedented economic sanctions against Russia. The sanctions are already creating major financial havoc, possibly sending the Russian economy into partial collapse. The intention of these actions is to put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to halt his country’s military assault on Ukraine.

These financial maneuvers are becoming as important as the weapons on the battlefield as the U.S. and EU try to find a non-violent way to stop the Russian invasion.

Elena McLean, associate professor of political science and an expert in international political economy, says economic sanctions are becoming one of the most powerful weapons in response to military conflicts.

“Economic sanctions can impose significant damage on targeted economies when they are designed with that goal in mind,” McLean explains. “The most severe sanctions can rival military conflict in the scale of economic and human costs they can generate.”

The sanctions are in place to avoid direct military engagement with Russia. With the threat of the use of nuclear weapons at stake, the fiscal penalties levied are one of the few ways to neutralize Russia.

“The economic coercion may be the only instrument available in a fight against a country that owns nuclear weapons, so we cannot say if sanctions are better or worse than fighting with weapons,” McLean says.  “A direct military confrontation between NATO, the U.S. and Russia is off the table due to the risk of escalation to nuclear warfare.”

She notes that sanctions are the best of all bad options right now.

“They are not going to stop Russia, and yet sanctions will make the conflict more costly for the country in the intermediate and long term, which may make it much more difficult for Russia to hang on to Ukraine if the Russian invasion succeeds militarily,” she says.