Tom Ruys Cedric Ryngaert

Secondary Sanctions: A Weapon out of Control? The International Legality of, and European Responses to, US Secondary Sanctions

(2020) British Yearbook of International Law, 116 p.

The US is increasingly weaponizing economic sanctions to push through its
foreign policy agenda. Making use of the centrality of the US in the global
economy, it has imposed ‘secondary sanctions’ on foreign firms, which are
forced to choose between trading with US sanctions targets or forfeiting access to the lucrative US market. In addition, the US has penalized foreign
firms for breaching US sanctions legislation. In this contribution, it is argued
that the international lawfulness of at least some secondary sanctions is
doubtful in light of the customary international law of jurisdiction, as well as
conventional international law (eg, WTO law). The lawfulness of these sanctions could be contested before various domestic and international judicial
mechanisms, although each mechanism comes with its own limitations. To
counter the adverse effects of secondary sanctions, third states and the EU
can also make use of, and have already made use of, various non-judicial
mechanisms, such as blocking statutes, special purpose vehicles to circumvent
the reach of sanctions, or even countermeasures. The effectiveness of such
mechanisms is, however, uncertain.