An institutional theory of sanctions onset and success

David Lektzian, Mark Souva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Why do economic sanctions sometimes succeed, but often fail, to produce a policy change? The authors argue that the effect of economic punishment is conditional on a state's political institutions. In all cases, the key to sanctions success is to generate political costs for the target regime's winning coalition. However, because of different institutional incentives, economically punishing sanctions are less likely to succeed against a nondemocratic target than against a democratic target. Sanctions increase rents. This benefits nondemocratic leaders more than democratic ones. Also, nondemocratic leaders have smaller winning coalitions, so their core constituents suffer less from sanctions than democratic leaders. Additionally, the authors' strategic argument leads to novel hypotheses regarding the initiation of sanctions. They test hypotheses from their political cost argument against all dyadic sanctions cases between 1948 and 1990, using two different dependent variables and a censored selection estimator to take into account the strategic nature of sanctioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)848-871
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2007


  • Democratic institutions
  • Economic restrictions
  • Sanctions theory
  • Selectorate theory


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