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 in reality these measures often fail to achieve their intended goals—and their potent side effects can even 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 cryptocurrency 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 multipolar 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, executive editor, 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