Sanctions book – Backfire

Sanctions have become the go-to foreign policy tool for the United States. Coercive economic measures such as trade tariffs, financial penalties, and export controls affect large numbers of companies and states across the globe. Some of these penalties target nonstate actors, such as Colombian drug cartels and Islamist terror groups; others apply to entire countries, including North Korea, Iran, and Russia. U.S. policy makers see sanctions as a low-cost tactic, but these measures have potent side effects that can, in some cases, harm American interests.

Backfire explores the surprising ways sanctions affect multinational companies, governments, and ultimately millions of people around the world. Drawing on interviews with experts, policy makers, and people in sanctioned countries, Backfire examines the unintended consequences of the use of sanctions as a diplomatic weapon. The proliferation of sanctions spurs efforts to evade them, as states and firms seek ways to circumvent U.S. penalties. This is only part of the story. Sanctions also reshape relations between countries, pushing governments that are at odds with the U.S. closer to each other—or, increasingly, to Russia and China.

Full of counterintuitive insights spanning a wide range of topics, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to Iran’s COVID response and China’s digital currency ambitions, Backfire reveals how sanctions are transforming geopolitics and the global economy—as well as diminishing U.S. influence. This insider’s account is an eye-opening, accessible, and timely book that sheds light on the future of sanctions in an increasingly fragmented world.

Praise for Backfire

Sanctions are in fashion. Trump used them with relish. Biden has deployed formidable ones against Russia. But do they work? And what are their side effects and long-term impact? These are critical questions, and Agathe Demarais’s excellent, clear-headed book has uncomfortable answers.

Daniel Franklin, The Economist

Backfire is a balanced, fast-paced, and often surprising account of the growing influence that sanctions have had on businesses, economies, and people around the world over recent decades, highlighting their often unintended and self-defeating consequences as well as their rare successes.

Paul Hannon, The Wall Street Journal

With the knowledge of an expert and tight prose of a journalist, Agathe Demarais has written a fast-paced, well-articulated review of the difficulties, risks, and unintended consequences of using sanctions. This book should be added to university curricula and personal reading lists alike.

Richard Nephew, author of The Art of Sanctions: A View from the Field

Linking her knowledge of international sanctions to a fascinating, lively account of their far-reaching effects (including humanitarian), Demarais provides a powerful and compelling narrative of the overuse of sanctions by the United States for the past decade. An indispensable read to dive into international relations through an original and timely prism.

Julien Nocetti, Saint-Cyr Military Academy

Anyone interested in sanctions, especially those implemented by the United States and the broader impact of the economic tool, should explore this very current and thoughtful work. This book will be appreciated by both the general reader and serious scholar, which makes it a perfect addition to economic and policy collections.

James Rhoades, Library Journal

The heyday of US-led sanctions is drawing to a close. Demarais predicts that a self-reliant China will increasingly undermine US sanctions on Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela and other authoritarian regimes. Backfire provides valuable pointers for policymakers.

Robert Wihtol, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

[Demarais’s] industry perspective is illuminating when exploring how firms behave toward sanctions.

Ali Ahmadi, International Affairs

Agathe Demarais soulève également une autre interrogation, tout aussi vertigineuse : le projet américain, à savoir divorcer économiquement de la Chine par une hausse des restrictions, des contrôles des exportations venues de Pékin et autres sanctions, aura-t-il les conséquences espérées ? Arguments à l’appui, l’autrice prévient : le découplage économique américano-chinois pourrait rendre le monde beaucoup plus dangereux.

Marie Charrel, Le Monde

Demarais, a global policy expert, provides a contemporary analysis of U.S. sanctions’ place, function, and effects in the world. [She] illuminate[s] how globalization became weaponized by superpowers and how it might have fractured the world.

Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, The New Republic

Quelles conséquences a le recours croissant à l’arme économique ? Quels effets les sanctions produisent-elles dans les sociétés et les économies ciblées ? Comment les Etats visés s’adaptent-ils ? Les sanctions sont-elles à même de stabiliser l’ordre international ? C’est à ces questions clés de la géopolitique contemporaine qu’Agathe Demarais répond dans son livre.

Louis De Catheu, Le Grand Continent

Current sanctions may undermine the effectiveness of future sanctions; thus, weaponizing Western banks and currencies against Russia may encourage Moscow and others to increase their reliance on China’s financial system. Demarais posits that the use of sanctions as a policy instrument has probably peaked.

Barry Eichengreen, Foreign Affairs

Agathe Demarais has written one of the timeliest books to be published in [2022]. […] Demarais’s book is not only essential to understanding the dynamics of U.S. sanctions but, considering that it was finished in early 2022, has proven to be prophetic with regard to recent developments in Russian oil, European energy, and semiconductors.

Mathias Fuelling, The Oxonian Review

In Backfire, Agathe Demarais highlights the risks of [export controls]. Though her manuscript was completed before the chip export ban, her argument is prescient: […] to be effective, [sanctions] should be targeted, short-term, and backed by allies.

Edoardo Campanella, Project Syndicate

Interessant: Die Expertin warnt vor der Überstrapazierung dieses Instruments. Die permanente ökonomische Bestrafung führe zum „Sanction Overkill“, weil am Ende alle ökonomischen Beziehungen politisiert würden. Viele Handelspartner verschwinden von der Landkarte. Die Lieferketten werden disruptiert. Die Preise steigen.

Gabor Steingart, Focus

Demarais offers a timely and important contribution of a primarily European perspective to an important debate: Do U.S. sanctions work? Her book is a breezy tour through a series of case studies that examine the sometimes unforeseen forces U.S. sanctions unleashed, their impact on European companies, and the responses they triggered from European officials. […] The lesson one might draw from “Backfire” is this: The U.S. needs to engage Europe.

Michael Laha, The Diplomat

Demarais’ astute analysis is both compelling and persuasive. […] Backfire is an engaging and enlightening read on a crucially important subject.

Gregory Brew, The Bridge

The book’s perspective can be distinguished from works by former US officials […]. American sanctions practitioners tend to write about sanctions with a certain detachment. They rarely have experience “in the field” and the unintended consequences are an affirmation of the power of the economic weapon they helped develop.  For her part, Demarais aims to provide a “clear picture” about [sanctions’] effects.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Phenomenal World

Excellent, insightful and rather sobering.

Mark Beeson, The Conversation

Backfire […] paints a fascinating picture of what sanctions can mean in practice. Against the vague and general descriptions in much popular and academic writing on sanctions, Demarais provides startling, [overwhelming], and instructive case studies of sanctions gone wrong.

Benjamin Letzler, International and Comparative Law Quarterly

Backfire offers a critical contribution to the field by explaining to laypersons, policymakers and international affairs experts alike what sanctions are about and what they do in ‘real’ life. Agathe Demarais uses an impressive number of examples and anecdotes to surgically decipher how sanctions work.

Mathieu Boulègue, RUSI Journal

The book is riveting stuff for the reader. It encompasses case studies of many episodes of US sanctions in recent decades, starting with Cuba. In short, an abundance of high-quality and delicious food for thought. Not only about sanctions, but especially about contemporary America.

Boris Begović, Belgrade Law Review

Given the ease with which sanctions can be imposed, and the lack of cost associated with them, it’s not surprising that they’re used so enthusiastically and so often by US administrations. Demarais says she doesn’t expect that to change. But, she says, because countries have gotten wise to sanctions, and figured out how to pre-empt them, the West would be wise to look back at what has and hasn’t worked when it comes to sanctions, and devise a playbook accordingly.

Paddy Hirsch, NPR

In Backfire former French Treasury official Agathe Demarais imagines how a direct US run-in with China would likely force European companies to stand by Washington and ditch Beijing: “In such a situation,” she writes, “many European businesses might not be able to survive.”

Lionel Laurent, Bloomberg

Il saggio di Agathe Demarais analizza il ricorso a questa strategia: gli efetti sono ormai aggirabili, salvo che non ci sia un’azione garantia e congiunta degli Usa e degli alleati.

Adriana Castagnoli, Il Sole 24 Ore (Domenica)

Important. Compelling. Relevant.

Delaney Simon, War on the Rocks

Precise, direct, and spare, yet with an engaging tone often bordering on the wry, Agathe Demarais’s Backfire is everything one would expect of a book written by the head of The Economist’s Intelligence Unit. It achieves the rare blend of being both informative and enjoyable. Demarais’s guidance is offered neither as a polemic nor a jeremiad, but rather as a frank and honest appraisal of a highly popular national security policy tool whose future utility may be increasingly limited.

Captain Eric Schuck, U.S. Navy Reserve, U.S. Naval Institute

“Backfire” is particularly strong on the concerns that European political leaders had over the United States’ unilateral use of sanctions. These policies, plus U.S. tariffs on European and allied goods, fueled the “strategic autonomy” agenda aimed at ensuring the EU could conduct its own foreign policy.

Rachel Ziemba, Lawfare Blog (Brookings Institution)

Demarais’s argument raises important questions about why the Biden administration would choose to start a process of decoupling from China that is likely to have such potent longer-term consequences in terms of how the global economy is put together […]. Too many analysts have pointed in this direction. Demarais is one of the most recent and most compelling.

Erik Jones, Survival (International Institute for Strategic Studies)

Demarais devotes the final chapter of her book to predicting how the current spate in the U.S.-China competition could hurt America. In decoupling, there is a concern that, instead of reducing America’s dependence on China, Beijing instead gains technical independence, which would allow it to act more autonomously.

Lars Erik Schönander, The National Interest

Demarais writes with verve and panache. Her exposition is fluid and vivid and can be read at pace for pleasure and instruction. Her treatment of friction between the US and the EU is particularly vivid. She concludes with an extensive and forward-looking consideration of US controls over high-technology exports to China, and of the dangers for the US of decoupling.

Alastair Morgan, Defence Strategic Communications (NATO)

Demarais takes the normal critique further, arguing that sanctions […] encourage behavior that runs counter to U.S. interests.

Joshua Keating, The Washington Post