The use of multilateral sanctions paired with diplomacy and incentives-based bargaining was once a hallmark of US nonproliferation policy and helped to advance security goals in South Africa, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Iran, and other countries. However, the Trump administration presided over an unraveling of US nonproliferation policy by rejecting cooperative approaches and misusing these instruments of diplomatic persuasion as unilateral means of punishment and coercion. The result has been a string of nuclear security reversals and an increase in global proliferation dangers. The administration of President-Elect Joe Biden will have considerable work to do in reconnecting with US allies and repairing the damage done to multilateral tools of statecraft, especially nonproliferation sanctions. But it also has an opportunity to refine and improve the role of sanctions and diplomacy in stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
This policy report traces the negative consequences of Washington’s misuse of sanctions under the Trump administration, argues for a recalibration of US nonproliferation policy, and articulates specific recommendations for the incoming Biden administration.