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Explaining Assertive Sanction Rhetoric

Sat, August 31, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Marriott, Harding


Although economic sanctions often fail to reap desired concessions from target states, they continue to comprise a major component of U.S. foreign policy. In light of this paradox, recent studies suggest that sanction policies can serve symbolic purposes beyond simple economic coercion. Specifically, leaders can use the implementation of sanctions to signal political resolve and demonstrate strength in foreign affairs. If leaders use economic sanctions to communicate with foreign actors and the American public, why do presidents frame these policies with assertive language in some cases, but not in others? We contend that the intended scope of a sanction policy will influence the degree of assertiveness used to communicate sanction policies. Using content analysis to evaluate an original dataset of documents relating to economic sanctions from 1994-2018, we find that the magnitude of economic sanctions significantly influences the rhetoric used by presidents to frame the policy itself.