How U.S. Sanctions Are Working (Or Not) in 5 Countries

Sanctions are back in the news — though if you’re President Donald Trump, that’s not a good thing. Here’s a look at the current state of U.S. sanctions on a few key countries and how they’re faring.


This week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a new round of sanctions against Russia, targeting its intelligence, energy, defense, mining and railway industries. The U.S. has had sanctions in place against Russia since the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, but this latest round also hits Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Sanctions take years to have full effect—in the short term, they’re mainly a shot across the bow (and one to which Putin has already retaliated). But you don’t often see a Republican-led Congress using sanctions as a shot across the bow of a Republican president.

Near-universal support from Congress (the sanctions bill passed the Senate by a 98-2 margin; the House of Representatives went 419-3) undermines Trump’s ability to unilaterally lift sanctions against Russia—compromising the traditional power of the president to lead the country’s foreign policy (if Trump wants to try to lift these sanctions, Congress has 30 days to approve or reject this request). The bipartisan bill had been held up by ferocious White House lobbying, but the realization has since set in that the bill will pass, even if Congress has to override a presidential veto. Trump still says that accusations his campaign colluded with the Russian government are “fake news.” Fake or not, concerns about his relations with Russia are beginning to have real impact on policy.

North Korea

While the Russia component of the bill is receiving the lion’s share of media attention, it also ramps up penalties against North Korea (in addition to Iran—see below). The U.S. has kept sanctions on the North Koreans since the Korean War. Not that they’ve done much beyond adding to the misery inside a country where 41 percent of people are undernourished and more than 70 percent depend on food aid. The Kim dynasty remains in power and continues to develop the country’s nuclear program. In fact, U.S. intelligence revised estimates just this week to say that Pyongyang could develop the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon to the continental US within a year. Some experts believe an ICBM tested on Friday could already put U.S. cities at risk.

But recent North Korea sanctions have also ricocheted on China, North Korea’s…

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