China Economic Sanctions European Union Russia United States and Canada


February 12, 2021

Global Sanctions Dashboard: January

By Michael Albanese and Castellum.AI

In this first edition of the GeoEconomics Center’s Global Sanctions Dashboard, the Atlantic Council aims to inform economic statecraft policies by analyzing sanctions globally and identifying trends across lists in partnership with Castellum.AI. Through the examination of potential areas of cooperation, as well as possible pain points, the insights gleaned in this report can help guide and inform multilateral cooperation in the new age of geoeconomics. This first edition focuses on the first month of 2021. 

Sanctions have long been a staple of American foreign policy. Under former President Donald Trump, sanctions ended up playing a considerable role in the administration’s ‘America First’ agenda—albeit with varied results. After four years, President Trump left office with nearly double the amount of designations than his predecessor did in his eight year tenure, though about 700 of Trump’s designations consisted of reimposing JCPOA sanctions lifted by Obama. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has recently promised to place a review on sanctions while the new administration aims to pivot towards a more strategic and judicious approach.

Treasury’s review comes at a time when sanctions are becoming increasingly popular among major powers. In August of 2020, China sanctioned US senators and heads of democracy promotion organizations over Hong Kong, and subsequently sanctioned an additional four individuals with links to democracy promotion in November of that year. The CCP has since made it clear that such a policy tool will have an expanded use in the future. On January 21st of this year, the Chinese government added 10 names to its sanctions regime—all former Trump administration officials. The use of sanctions are also evolving in Europe as the EU expands its authorities, including on human rights, and where the United Kingdom will chart its own path post-Brexit with a list that differs from European Union designations. 

As evidenced by these changes, the use of sanctions as a frequent foreign policy tool by both democracies and autocratic regimes will expand over the next several years. Understanding where sanctions will have a more fractured use, and where there is room for a coordinated response, will be critical to addressing transnational threats in the future. As Secretary Yellen attempts to restore a prudent use of sanctions in Treasury’s national security wing, she will be doing so in an environment where adversaries and allies alike are increasing their reliance on sanctions as a tool of economic statecraft. Furthermore, embedding sanctions within a larger coherent geoeconomic strategy will be necessary to meet evolving national security challenges. 

Michael Albanese is a Research Consultant for the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center and recently graduated from the University of Maryland, where he studied geoeconomics with a specialization in Russian foreign policy.

At the intersection of economics, finance, and foreign policy, the GeoEconomics Center is a translation hub with the goal of helping shape a better global economic future.