There is a crisis in nonproliferation diplomacy. The United States has recently turned away from the strategy of targeted sanctions, by imposing severe sanctions that can harm civilians. In so doing, policymakers discard a hallmark of US nonproliferation policy that helped to advance security goals in South Africa, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Iran, and other countries.

The incoming administration of President-Elect Joe Biden will have the opportunity to refine and improve the role of sanctions and diplomacy in stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction. How can the new administration repair the damage done to multilateral tools of statecraft?

Experts studying the purpose and effectiveness of sanctions argue that an evidence-based approach to establishing US sanctions policy would be more effective—and humane. Their perspectives can help retool nonproliferation sanctions policy, and provide perspective for diplomacy with Russia and negotiated risk reduction in North Korea and Iran.

Rather than being a tool of nonproliferation policy, sanctions have too
often become the entirety of that policy.