The Father of the (Financial) War on Terror is the War on Drugs?

On May 31, 2014, the White House issued a cryptic press release, a brief letter from President Obama to Congress. The letter announced that the US government had decided to levy economic sanctions against Victor Cerrano, Jose Umana, and Francisco Barros, three foreign individuals from Colombia, El Savador, and Cape Verde, respectively.

Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer?
Thomas Jefferson: Sanctions Pioneer

For some of us, it may be surprising to learn that the United States sometimes declares what amounts to an economic war [1] against individuals. If we survey the history of economic statecraft [2] from the Peloponnesian War, to Thomas Jefferson’s 1807 embargo, [3] to the growing popularity of economic coercion since the 1970s, it’s clear that sanctions against non-states actors are a relatively new development (Baldwin 1985, Hufbauer, Schott, & Elliott 2007; Drezner 2003).

Today, such economic restrictions against individuals and entities (e.g. businesses, charities) are rapidly outpacing embargoes against states, and US non-sovereign targets currently number in the thousands. In the War on Terror, non-sovereign sanctions have also emerged as a critical instrument of non-military aggression in the form of the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. [4] Those listed—either as SDNGT (global terror) or as a SDNK (global narcotics trafficker)– quickly find that they are essentially ‘locked out’ of the American economy and that their US assets are “frozen.” All US persons and organizations are prohibited from economically transacting with a SDN.

The concerted use of non-sovereign sanctions was pioneered in the War on Drugs, and not in the War on Terror. [5]

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