Core design elements

Core elements

Explore core elements of sanctions design.

Sanctions work in a number of different ways. Most sanctions regimes have multiple purposes, they can attempt to:

  • Coerce a change of behavior,
  • Constrain the ability to engage in proscribed activities, most commonly through limiting access to resources, and/or
  • Signal norms or stigmatize targets.

All three purposes can be pursued simultaneously, or sanctions can focus only on one or two of these aspects.

Since the late 1990s, there has been a move towards the use of targeted sanctions. There are a number of different ways in which sanctions can be targeted. In terms of individual targets, sanctions can be focused on:

  • Specific individuals or corporate entities
  • Government leadership
  • Entire government
  • Regime supporters
  • Non-governmental entity
  • Terrorist group
  • Facilitators of proscribed activity
  • All parties to a conflict
  • Neighboring countries

The UN Security Council has imposed a broad range of mandatory, conditional, and recommended (voluntary) sanctions measures. Broadly speaking, these can be divided into the following categories (from most to least targeted):

  • Individual (asset freeze or travel ban)
  • Diplomatic
  • Arms embargo
  • Proscribed activity
  • Commodity
  • Transportation
  • Financial sector

There are a number of other ways in which the scope of sanctions can be limited. Sanctions can be restricted to specific territories within a country, can be limited in duration, or can be exempted for different activities.


  • Demarcated region
  • Area controlled by target


  • Delays in start, suspension, or termination
  • Duration limitations


  • Humanitarian purposes
  • Peace operations support
  • Participation in peace talks
  • Other

The work of the UN Security Council is often supported by the appointment of:

Sanctions Committees

  • Support the monitoring, implementation, day-to-day operations, review, and adjustment of UN sanctions regimes.

Panels of Experts

  • Support the Committee and the Council with monitoring and evaluation of sanctions implementation. They vary in size and composition (type of expertise represented), depending on the specific needs of the sanctions regime and types of sanctions applied.

Ideally, sanctions should not only be periodically reviewed in terms of their focus, mandate, and effectiveness, but also in light of their overall objective:

  • Counter acts of terrorism
  • End nuclear proliferation
  • Cease hostilities
  • Sign peace accord
  • Join coalition government
  • Complete DDR and/or SSR processes
  • Facilitate a political transition
  • Support humanitarian efforts
  • Enhance human rights protection
  • Support judicial processes

To help clarify the signal and outline the desired path for targets, the concrete criteria for sanctions suspension and termination should be clearly specified.

UN sanctions should be kept current through periodic:

  • Reviews of sanctions measures, purposes, and effectiveness
  • Adjustments to list of targets
  • Responses to sanctions evasion and non-compliance