American Sanctions in Asia

American Sanctions in Asia

Author(s): Brendan Taylor

ISBN:          978-0-415-42350-2

Publisher: Routledge

Year:          2010

Price:           £100.00

Reviewed by Jason R. Harshman, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A.

The use of sanctions is, as Brendan Taylor argues in American Sanctions in Asia, “as old as the country itself” (p. 32). Taylor’s contribution to this long history is a focused analysis of the diverse ways in which sanctions have been utilized by the U.S. government against foreign governments, with particular attention to the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and the ramifications of these approaches in the Asia-Pacific region. By focusing on the impact of U.S. led sanctions against Myanmar, North Korea, India, and other nations over a twenty year period, Taylor provides the reader with an analysis of great depth in order to understand the issues diplomats on multiple sides have to consider before deciding what the specifics of the sanctions will entail.

 The author begins with an overview of terminology, with particular attention to how context can determine the type of sanctions a nation may impose. When news outlets discuss sanctions, they speak as if there is only one type of sanction when in actuality, depending on the circumstances, there are a number of approaches that have been taken by one governing institution against another. Though sanctions are often used to penalize a target, there also exist “positive sanctions” that are used to induce a governing body to comply with the wishes of the nation that initiated the sanctions (p. 14). Sanctions have ben used to: incite uprisings against a ruling regime (such as when the U.S. used sanctions against the Soviet Union following its invasion of Afghanistan); “signal” approval or disapproval of an action or policy imposed within or beyond a nations’ border; for symbolic purposes on a domestic or foreign front such as when the U.S., to exert its role as an international leader, imposes sanctions to “placate pressures within their own polity” (p. 16).

Furthermore, sanctions, according to Taylor’s discussion of James Barber’s work, must be understood as having primary, secondary, and tertiary objectives (p. 16). Beyond concerns with the actions of a state or in anticipation of public outcry against the actions of a governing body, sanctions are also implemented to “maintain the international status quo” and can involve “ensuring cohesion or extending…an alliance…or counter a potentially threatening ideologically or religious doctrine” (p. 17). The remainder of the first chapter and most of the second chapter constitute analyses of sanctions scholarship and prevailing theories related to international policy and the role of the U.S. as the sole super power.

Moving from a theoretical analysis to a historical overview of the use of sanctions in American history, chapter three examines the motives behind how the U.S. has used sanctions in multiple areas of the world. Taylor briefly touches on the first-half of the twentieth century before moving on to a sustained focus on how sanctions emerged as a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. Of particular note is his attention to the Vietnam War as a turning point as far as who had influence in the decision making around foreign policy and what approach would be used against a foreign state (p. 41).

Prior to the Second World War, interest groups “exacted little influence in the realm of foreign affairs” but this changed dramatically with the onset of the Cold War, and particularly the evolvement of an anti-communist ideology across the political spectrum (p. 41). This Cold War development has not changed and, as Taylor argues through documented evidence, since the end of the Cold War, policy makers and interest group leaders have continued to collaborate over what actions the U.S. should take against opposing forces. The author then moves into how the U.S. Congress has indirectly influenced foreign policy through types of legislation: procedural, framing opinion, direct or “private” diplomacy, and substantive (p. 44-45). It is in this section that Taylor brings to light how the political system has weighed on inter-branch relations at the federal and thus international level, thus imposing domestic politics on foreign policy.

 Chapters four and five focus on developments between the U.S. and state governments in the Asia-Pacific region during the Presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively. Chapter four is broken down into five case studies across President Clinton’s two terms in office: Human Rights and China, Trade and Japan, nuclear weapons and North Korea, tensions between India and Pakistan over the testing of nuclear arms, and the military government of Myanmar. As Taylor points out in the first line of the chapter, “from the outset, President Bill Clinton made little secret of his enthusiasm for sanctions as an instrument of statecraft” (p. 50). The chapter then looks at each case study, not just from a U.S. perspective, but in a way that lets the reader understand why China, Japan, and other state governments and agencies took the steps they did during negotiations with the U.S. Drawing on the definitions and theoretical analysis of the earlier chapters, Taylor’s discussion of each case study gives insight into how sanctions were used as signals, to placate domestic interest groups, and as symbolic acts on a regional and global scale.

Chapter five focuses on President George W. Bush’s involvement in North Korea, Myanmar, and the ending of sanctions against India. But instead of Japan, Taylor looks at the decision to lift sanctions against Indonesia. The contrast in approaches between President Bush and President Clinton over sanctions is addressed in the first paragraph of the chapter. During the confirmation hearing of Colin Powell for Secretary of State in 2001 he “famously characterized sanctions as a highly dubious and overused instrument of statecraft” (p. 89). Consequently, not a single new sanction was imposed in 2001, but over time, Taylor argues that the Bush Administration turned to sanctions more often as the years passed. Taylor does an effective job of articulating the various forces that were at play in Indonesia that led to the lifting of sanctions by the U.S. in February 2005 (p. 101). Again drawing upon the theoretical analysis of earlier chapters, Taylor looks at what was happening on the ground, as well as around the negotiating tables in Indonesia and the U.S. State Department that led to this decision. The reader gains a well-rounded understanding of whose voices are not only present during the formation of policy, but also what the likely outcomes will be if sanctions are or are not imposed.

 The book concludes with a review of how sanctions have played out over the course of the past two decades and what this has meant for how the U.S. is viewed in the Asia-Pacific region. Taylor draws connections between theoretical arguments and how the imposition and lifting of sanctions on the countries highlighted in the case studies unfolded. He offers a final analysis of how U.S. involvement in one country in the Asia-Pacific region can influence negotiations and policy decisions in a neighboring country, with suggestions as to how sanctions research should proceed. The book is well researched and offers thorough insight into how decisions are made in this area of the world. The author’s arguments are presented in such a way that readers ranging from experts in the field to a lay reader interested in U.S. foreign policy will find it accessible.

Reviewer Info: Jason R. Harshman is a Doctoral Candidate and Lecturer in Social Studies and Global Education at The Ohio State University. His research interests include examining the relationship between social justice and critical geography within global education, critical theory and pedagogy, and developing how media and technology are used to support global citizenship education in social studies.

Works Cited Barber, J. (1979, July). Economic sanctions as a policy instrument. International Affairs, 55(3), 367-384.

Suggested citation:

Jason R. Harshman (2010). Review of “American Sanctions in Asia” edited by Brendan Taylor, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 6, no. 7 , Internet file: