Use of Targeted Sanctions against Organised Crime: The Role of Political Will

An assessment of factors affecting political will among governments and other actors to impose and enforce sanctions related to serious and organised crime.

Targeted sanctions are used to tackle a growing range of problems, but there remains a potential for stronger application against serious and organised criminality. One of the distinguishing features of sanctions use in this area is the near-unlimited pool of potential targets around the world, raising questions as to appropriate parameters and targeting strategies. Yet a range of wider factors influence sender states’ use (or non-use) of targeted sanctions against serious and organised criminality. Political will is central to many of these dynamics, and is significantly understudied in this context.

This project aims to provide more granular guidance to policymakers on the potential for effective, politically feasible sanctions use against key crimes. It considers the under-explored question of political will from two perspectives: that of sanction-sending states and multilaterals issuing crime-based sanctions, and that of the home states of individuals that are targeted to cooperate with them.

This research is urgently needed. Crucially, it is now more commonplace to see organised crime-related sanctions applied between otherwise allied states. This and other key factors elevate the importance of assessing what factors account for a host country’s willingness to engage constructively with another state’s use of organised crime-related sanctions against its citizens.

Aims and objectives

The project’s core objective is to strengthen the existing knowledge base on the factors determining political will among governments and other actors to impose and cooperate with sanctions linked to serious and organised crime. In doing so, it seeks to provide policymakers and practitioners with evidence-based guidance on the options for effective, politically feasible sanctions use against key crimes.

The project builds on previous SOC-ACE research led by RUSI under the project ‘Assessing the Effectiveness of Sanctions as a Tool to Disrupt Serious and Organised Crime’. This project identified host-country political will (or lack thereof) as crucial in two cases – Colombia and Libya. In Colombia, political will to support designations was central to the perceived success of sanctions use; in Libya, by contrast, limited domestic cooperation hindered sanctions use in this space. Yet the limited scope of the project prevented an in-depth examination of the factors affecting the different levels of political will in each case.

This follow-on project dives deeper into the under-explored topic of political will, considering the following research questions:

  • What factors influence political will to issue and cooperate with organised crime-focused sanctions in sender states and the home states of sanctioned individuals?
  • To what extent does the targeting of state and non-state actors’ impact political will to issue and support organised crime-focused sanctions in sender and host countries?
  • How should future organised crime-focused sanctions use consider political will in host countries?
  • Do factors affecting political will vary by crime type, and how can greater clarity on specific options, past results and targeting strategy affect policymakers’ calculations?

In exploring these questions, the project will address knowledge gaps that may be limiting the potential of sanctions as a tool in the organised crime space, both in relation to sender states’ decision to impose sanctions and home states’ reaction to such sanctions against their citizens.

Throughout the project, a key objective is to ensure that practical application and policy relevance act as guiding principles, with our activities adopting a nose-to-tail policy approach. In this way, the project aims to optimise research uptake, informing the design of interventions to effectively counter serious and organised crime.

SOC ACE Project: Assessing the effectiveness of sanctions as a tool to disrupt serious organised crime

This project seeks to address a number of gaps in the evidence base on the effectiveness of sanctions use by countries to tackle SOC. It aims to make a key contribution as an independent study of existing experience of using sanctions against SOC – and the lessons this experience holds for the UK.

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