Caught in the Economic Crosshairs: Secondary Sanctions, Blocking Regulations, and the American Sanctions Regime

By Daniel Meagher

Economic sanctions have a long tradition of use in American foreign policy. There are many benefits to using economic sanctions, particularly when policymakers employ them as alternatives to military action. Secondary sanctions developed as a relatively new tool intended to extend the reach and potency of economic sanctions. They function in much the same manner as traditional, or primary, sanctions. However, they target individuals and entities who conduct prohibited business with the targets of primary economic sanctions. Secondary sanctions are often accompanied by severe financial penalties and threats of exclusion from U.S. consumer and financial markets.

Through secondary sanctions, the United States can ensure the rest of the world complies with its foreign policy objectives even if they are not necessarily shared by the rest of the world. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, the agency that administers the American sanctions regime, has shown little regard for America’s allies when punishing individuals or entities for noncompliance with secondary sanctions.

In response to American secondary sanctions, Europe has enacted a series of blocking regulations intended to punish any European individual or entity that alters an intended course of action in order to comply with American sanctions. These blocking regulations were intended to counteract American influence on European companies operating in the American markets. Ultimately, however, the conflicting regimes have left individuals and entities in a precarious legal position where dual compliance is impossible. Compounding the issue, the American sanctions regime is shrouded in a lack of transparency, with little allowance to appeal decisions made by the executive branch. This Note examines the various methods by which an adversely affected party can challenge U.S. secondary sanctions. Finding these available methods lacking in effectiveness, this Note argues that several avenues for reform should be taken to mitigate a potential freezing effect on international commerce, financing, and other international relations.