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Varieties of Punishment – Regional Sanctions in Theory and Practice

Non-interference in domestic affairs was a pillar of early regional cooperation. By contrast, nowadays most regional organizations have instituted possibilities to use internal sanctions against members or – more rarely – foreign policy sanctions against third countries. This trend is an important expression of how regional organizations adopt increasingly political priorities in the spheres of peace and security, as well as democracy and human rights. Thereby they do not only rethink traditional notions of state sovereignty, but also change the playfield of international and unilateral sanctions.

However, not all organizations have joined the same path. Regional organizations have different opinions about sanctions and the circumstances under which they should or should not be used. To understand where the considerable diversity within the overall trend of regional sanctioning comes from is essential in order to judge regionalism as a transformative force in international politics. Whereas theories of regional integration and international politics can fairly well explain the overall expansion and change in character of regional cooperation, the question of why regional organizations have opted for different approaches to sanctions remains unexplained.

This question will be tackled in a three-year project funded by the Swedish Research Council’s international postdoctoral program, hosted by the KFG together with the Department of Political Science at Stockholm University. First, the project maps the theoretical and practical approaches to sanctions of the twelve most important regional organizations in the world. Second, it conducts a comparative in-depth study of how four regional organizations came to differ in their approaches to sanctions: the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), the League of Arab States (Arab League) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). For a first study of three of the cases, see KFG Working Paper No 59 (January 2014): “Regional Organizations and Sanctions Against Members: Explaining the Different Trajectories of the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations”.

The project tests the argument that the differences in post-Cold War regional approaches to sanctions originate in different concepts of the region, which are inherited from formative events during the early period of regional cooperation. In particular, it is hypothesized that initial exposure to sanctions or similar punitive instruments may explain the different trajectories taken.


Dr Elin Hellquist
Ihnestr. 26
14195 Berlin
; elin.hellquist@eui.eu