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Unilateral economic sanctions are imposed by one country against another to cut off trade and business relations, such as import and export of goods and financial loans. This is a method of foreign policy instituted when one country disagrees with another country's mode of government, human rights violations, environmental pollution, or other policy. The goal of the sanctions is to punish the targeted nation and give them an impetus to change their policies.
A nation can perpetrate a variety of offenses that would cause others to impress unilateral economic sanctions. For example, they may not tightly regulate environmental pollution or chemical waste, support terrorism directly or by ignoring it, allow unsafe or exploitative employment conditions of children or prisoners, develop weapons that violate international agreements, permit narcotics trade, or otherwise violate basic human rights. The sanctions mean that a company may not do business with the offending country, including employing labor, investing funds, importing raw or consumer goods, or exporting their own products.
The United States government holds the power to institute unilateral economic sanctions against offending states if they fulfill the "rogue and recalcitrant" requirement. The U.S. economically sanctions more countries than any other state. For example, they have or have had unilateral embargoes against China, Vietnam, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. They hope that the economies of these countries will be so adversely affected that they will work to improve living conditions by changing laws or providing more resources.
Many U.S. businesses and independent analysts question the efficacy of unilateral economic sanctions. They point out that rarely, if ever, have they successfully driven a state to significantly change their policy to meet U.S. demands. They focus on long-term embargoes, such as against Cuba or the Soviet Union, that did not result in improved foreign relations. Yet sanctions almost always adversely impact our domestic economy. Sanctions eliminate the amount of goods that can be exported, resulting in lower revenues and lost jobs.
Instead, some companies insist that their presence in developing countries encourages, by example, better working conditions and higher wages that can be compensated by increased foreign investment. Also, the U.S. spends a lot of money on monitoring and enforcing such sanctions and embargoes. Often their sanctions have invited retaliation from developed countries in Europe that decide to boycott U.S. goods, further weakening the economy, because they do not agree on the method of unilateral economic sanctions.
Proponents proclaim that unilateral economic sanctions establish a clear display of a nation's minimum standards and slowly help to weaken the offending government.