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Cover of How Sanctions Work by Narges Bajoghli, Vali Nasr, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, and Ali Vaez
How Sanctions Work
Iran and the Impact of Economic Warfare
Narges Bajoghli, Vali Nasr, Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, and Ali Vaez


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February 2024
212 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503637313
Paperback ISBN: 9781503637801
Ebook ISBN: 9781503637818

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Sanctions have enormous consequences. Especially when imposed by a country with the economic influence of the United States, sanctions induce clear shockwaves in both the economy and political culture of the targeted state, and in the everyday lives of citizens. But do economic sanctions induce the behavioral changes intended? Do sanctions work in the way they should?

To answer these questions, the authors of How Sanctions Work highlight Iran, the most sanctioned country in the world. Comprehensive sanctions are meant to induce uprisings or pressures to change the behavior of the ruling establishment, or to weaken its hold on power. But, after four decades, the case of Iran shows the opposite to be true: sanctions strengthened the Iranian state, impoverished its population, increased state repression, and escalated Iran's military posture toward the U.S. and its allies in the region. Instead of offering an 'alternative to war,' sanctions have become a cause of war. Consequently, How Sanctions Work reveals how necessary it is to understand how sanctions really work.

About the authors

Narges Bajoghli is an anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Vali Nasr is Professor of International Affairs and Middle East Studies at the Johns Hopkins SAIS.

Djavad Salehi-Isfahani is Professor of Economics at Virginia Tech.

Ali Vaez is the Director of the International Crisis Group Iran Project.

"There is no shortage of publications on the Iran sanctions, but it is rare to see such detailed, serious work on this topic by highly knowledgeable scholars. How Sanctions Work introduces a wealth of information and perspectives not generally found in the existing Western academic literature."

—Joy Gordon, author of Invisible War: The United States and the Iraq Sanctions

"A vital study of the most tragic case in the recent history of economic sanctions. Bajoghli, Nasr, Salehi-Isfahani, and Vaez powerfully demonstrate how large the gap between the severe material effects and the limited political efficacy of sanctions against Iran has grown."

—Nicholas Mulder, author of The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War

"An indispensable book on sanctions' impacts in Iran, How Sanctions Work, opens a window into the fraught, little-understood, but ubiquitous and hugely consequential practice that seems to have supplanted diplomacy in current foreign policy and international relations. This volume shifts our understandings of what sanctions do—in Iran and beyond."

—Arzoo Osanloo, author of Forgiveness Work: Mercy, Law, and Victims' Rights in Iran

"For the analysts in Washington and Tehran newly evaluating sanctions and their effects, How Sanctions Work is a valuable resource. By centering the targeted country in the discussion of sanctions efficacy, Bajoghli, Nasr, Salehi-Isfahani, and Vaez demonstrate what a case study on sanctions should look like."

—Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Responsible Statecraft