For decades, Washington’s favourite means of punishing nations that do not subscribe to its narrative has been through the imposition of economic sanctions. This has become particularly apparent with the ongoing and increasing sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea. While sanctions against these governments have garnered headlines for the past few years, in fact, there are far more sanctions that we rarely hear about.
In 1950, the Office of Foreign Assets Control was formed as part of the United States Department of the Treasury. OFAC administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions that are based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals. Sanctions have been imposed for the following reasons:
2.) international narcotics trade
3.) proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
4.) threats to national security, foreign policy and/or economy of the United States
Economic sanctions, in their most basic form, are defined as the withdrawal of trade and financial relations with a targeted nation for foreign and security policy purposes. Economic sanctions can take many forms including freezing of assets, arms embargoes, trade restrictions and bans, capital restraints, foreign aid reductions and travel bans. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States uses economic and financial sanctions more than any other nation.
In the United States, sanctions can originate in either the Executive or Legislative branches of government. Presidents begin the process by issuing an Executive Order or EO which affords the president social powers to regulate commerce with a given entity. Under the EO, the president declares that there is a national emergency in response to “unusual and extraordinary” foreign threats, for instance, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. In addition to Executive actions, Congress can also pass legislation to both modify and impose sanctions. Most sanctions programs are administered by the previously mentioned OFAC, however, other government departments may be involved including Homeland Security, Justice, State and Commerce.
On the OFAC website interested parties can search for information on federally mandated sanctions programs. Under each sanctions program there is an exhaustive listing of changes to the programs, guidelines that must be followed under penalty of law.