Volume XXI – Number 2 

Oliver C. Dziggel

Abstract: For nearly two years under President Ronald Reagan, the United States issued economic sanctions against the Soviet Union in response to the Soviet Union declaring martial law in Poland. While on the surface this seems to be a legitimate argument given Reagan’s staunch anti-communist stance, in reality the sanctions were an attempt to prevent oil pipelines from entering Western Europe from Russia.  This article analyzes the motives, effectiveness, and legality of the sanctions passed by the Reagan administration through the Export Administration Act of 1979. Economic sanctions are a common tool of international relations, typically used in response to unfavorable or unwarranted behaviors of other states. In this context, the Reagan pipeline sanctions were not out of the ordinary, and the United States was within its international legal rights to exercise said sanctions. However, the method by which the sanctions were employed raised questions about its legality. Firstly, the Export Administration Act of 1979 was interpreted to stop the use of licensed American technologies from being used in the construction of a Euro-Siberian pipeline, regardless of any contracts already in place, raising the issue of ex post facto applications of the law. Additionally, this interpretation of the law by the Reagan administration can be seen as violating international law and the sovereignty of foreign states by imposing U.S. law on foreign soil. As such, the sanctions caused outrage in Western Europe, the U.S.’s allies seeing this as an infringement on their rights as sovereign states to conduct business. This article concludes with suggestions for better U.S.-European cohesion regarding the Soviet Union.

Keywords: International Law, Reagan, Sanctions, Economics 


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