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Follow the Money

Authors: Stuart Levey, and Christy Clark, Podesta Group
October 3, 2011
Foreign Policy


The United States and its partners are increasingly employing financial sanctions as an instrument of national power. The U.N. Security Council requires member states to impose sanctions on terrorist groups; financial sanctions are the centerpiece of resolutions dealing with Iran, Libya, and North Korea; and, while they may garner less attention in the media, the Security Council also has targeted sanctions in place related to Ivory Coast, Liberia, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The targeted financial sanctions implemented by the United Nations have gained greater acceptance among governments and the private sector than the full-scale embargoes of years past, and they have had considerable success in advancing their goals. While these measures cannot be a policy in and of themselves, they have the tangible benefit of disrupting illicit networks and pressuring intransigent regimes by making it far more difficult for them to access needed financial services. But even these more powerful targeted sanctions could be dramatically more effective.

At present there are no real consequences, beyond the civil and criminal penalties that the United States imposes, for those who violate U.N.-mandated sanctions. The United Nations lacks enforcement mechanisms with real teeth -- a reality that is unlikely to change given the attitude of some Security Council members. There is, however, one step that could make a significant difference: The world's premier standard-setting body for combating terrorist financing and money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), should develop and enforce standards for sanctions implementation.

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