The independent resource on global security

5. Sanctions applied by the European Union and the United Nations



I. Introduction

II. The United Nations sanctions experience

III. The EU sanctions experience

IV. Sanctions against Iraq

V. Sanctions against Afghanistan

VI. Sanctions against terrorism

VII. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


During 2001 sanctions continued to play an important role in the efforts to manage a range of security problems while the reform of sanctions witnessed towards the end of the 1990s continued. Both the United Nations and the European Union have been working to improve the effectiveness of sanctions as an instrument for managing international security problems.


Although the word ‘sanctions’ is frequently used, it does not have an agreed definition. The UN Charter does not use the word at all but refers to measures that may be adopted in response to identified threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. The implications of using sanctions against states are similar to a military action as their intent is always to inflict damage on the target. For this reason, the legitimacy of sanctions applied without a decision by the Security Council has been questioned.


Sanctions are now not only applied to target states, but also to non-state entities and, increasingly, to individuals. After the terrorist attacks on the USA on 11 September the UN Security Council agreed on extensive measures against groups and individuals that have carried out acts of terrorism. The use of sanctions against terrorism—a general and global threat rather than a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression in a specific location—is unprecedented but draws heavily on recent UN experience with the development of targeted sanctions. However, it is not currently proposed to apply similar measures to other general threats identified by the Security Council.


The EU has established sanctions against states although the UN Security Council has not taken a similar decision. In some cases the EU has maintained its sanctions after the Security Council has decided to end UN measures. These decisions reflect the emergence of a political actor with an identity separate from the identity of its member states, since those states would not themselves have taken these decisions outside the EU context.


This is a distinctive approach to the use of sanctions in support of its CFSP. Sanctions are being used by the EU as one instrument to advance its objectives on democratization and human rights. The EU sanctions achieved some success in South-Eastern Europe when used as part of a broader set of security-building measures.



Dr Ian Anthony (United Kingdom) is the Leader of the SIPRI Internet Database on European Export Controls Project. In 1992–98 he was Leader of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Project. His most recent publication for SIPRI is A Future Arms Control Agenda: Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 118, 1999 (2001), for which he is co-editor (with Adam Daniel Rotfeld). He is also editor of the SIPRI volumes Russia and the Arms Trade (1998), Arms Export Regulations (1991) and SIPRI Research Report no. 7, The Future of Defence Industries in Central and Eastern Europe (1994), and author of The Naval Arms Trade (SIPRI, 1990) and The Arms Trade and Medium Powers: Case Studies of India and Pakistan 1947–90 (1991). He has written or co-authored chapters for the SIPRI Yearbook since 1988.

Dr Ian Anthony