As tensions between Israel and Iran threatened to spark a broader regional conflagration, Washington levied a spate of new sanctions targeting Iran’s drone program. The sanctions, among other U.S. actions, seemed intended to reassure Israel and discourage it from an escalatory response. Whether or not they worked in this instance, they likely did no harm, but that is not always the case. Too often sanctions levied in the name of advancing peace and security have hidden costs that compromise their objectives. Washington should take steps to address sanctions’ downsides and make them more effective tools for furthering global peace and security.

U.S. policymakers have long used sanctions with the aim of bolstering regional and global peace and security. In crisis situations, the United States imposes sanctions to cut off warmongers from weapons and money, hold them accountable for human rights abuses, heighten the costs of their violence, and push them to the peace table.

Sanctions are used in these and other ways in more places than ever before, at a rapidly growing rate. In the last 20 years, the number of U.S. sanctions grew by almost one thousand percent. President Joe Biden’s annual listing rate is nearly double that of President Trump and triple that of President Barack Obama, and he has listed approximately one third of all parties currently on U.S. sanctions lists, according to the law firm Gibson Dunn.

In many cases, Washington is right to wield its economic might in this way, as it was with respect to Ukraine. While the threat of sanctions did not prevent Moscow’s full-scale invasion and the Russian economy has shown some resilience, the swift imposition of sanctions in February 2022 and the additional sanctions packages imposed since have nevertheless allowed the United States and its allies to deliver on the threats they issued before the invasion, impose costs on Russia for its aggression, and make it harder for Moscow to sustain its war effort.

But again and again, U.S. sanctions frustrate diplomatic efforts – including Washington’s own.