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How Do United Nations Sanctions Work? And Are They Effective?

The U.S. is one of several countries that typically backs U.N. sanctions — but do those sanctions actually work?

How Do United Nations Sanctions Work? And Are They Effective?
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The United Nations will impose sanctions on other countries, but why? And do they work?

The U.N. uses sanctions to seek peace and to react to a country's actions — like North Korea's nuclear advancements. Sanctions can be "open-ended" until a country fixes concerns.

U.N. sanctions are typically backed by several countries — including the U.S. — that are part of the U.N. Security Council.

In 2014, it cost the Security Council about $30 million a year to maintain all of its sanctions. That's the latest available data. But, the U.N.'s other peacekeeping efforts often cost a lot more. And the economic cost is often even greater for countries that are targets of sanctions.

In August, U.N. sanctions against North Korea limited trade. That could hit the country's revenue by $1 billion.

Iran Aims To Boost Defense Spending In Response To US Sanctions

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Although, there have been arguments against that estimate.

Sanctions, however, are not always meant to punish governments. They are also used to encourage and support countries toward stability.

So, how effective are they?

Few organizations have looked into that question. But, in 2013, the Targeted Sanctions Consortium found that the effectiveness of a sanction depends on the aim.

The group looked at 22 U.N. sanctions since 1991. It found that for coercing a change in behavior, sanctions worked about 10 percent of the time. But constraining certain activities was more effective and worked about 28 percent of the time. And for communicating concerns to countries, there was a 27 percent effectiveness rate.

The U.N. directs member states to fully back a sanction to get the most of out it.

Sanctions aren't meant to be a cure-all but aim to help U.N. member countries get on the same page and create change.