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Breaking Down Trump's Economic Sanctions

The current administration has made heavy-handed economic policy one of its main tools for influencing global politics.
Donald Trump attends the National Prayer Breakfast

In a continuation of its punitive international economic policies, the United States government levied sanctions on Wednesday against companies based in China, Singapore, and Russia. The companies were targeted for their role in exporting alcohol, tobacco, cigarettes, and oil products to North Korea—and thus violating U.S.-imposed sanctions against the country, according to the New York Times.

Sanctions are a key feature of the Trump administration's strong-armed political and economic strategy. But the effectiveness of that approach has been repeatedly called into question, particularly when so many of these U.S.-imposed penalties have been issued without significant international cooperation.

Below, a rundown of the White House's most notable sanctions:

North Korea

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has levied harsher sanctions against North Korea in an attempt to force Pyongyang to end its nuclear program. Wednesday's sanctions, against any countries that themselves engage in trade with North Korea, were intended to send a stern warning to both China and Russia: that their international relations are under close scrutiny.

"Consequences for violating these sanctions will remain in place until we have achieved the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea," Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said in a statement announcing the newest sanctions. The government of Kim Jong-un has maintained that it will not commit to denuclearization until the Korean War is officially declared over.

It also appears China and Russia are continuing to take part in economic dealings with North Korea in an attempt to undermine the U.S.'s position and gain further influence in the region.


Trump announced last week that he would impose new steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, an ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in response to the country's continued imprisonment of American evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson. In response, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that his government would be implementing retaliatory tariffs on American cars, alcohol, tobacco, and other products. The sanctions caused Turkey's lira to drop precipitously, further catalyzing an incipient economic crisis in the country.

Brunson was imprisoned in October of 2016 after being accused of spying for a political rival of Erdoğan's. After the Turkish government failed to release Brunson in July, the Trump administration has taken increasingly aggressive steps to attempt to force his freeing. However, as Alaa Shahine wrote for Bloomberg, the Brunson angle may just be a cover for the White House's real aim: punishing Turkey for its increasingly close ties to Iran.

As of now, it seems that Turkey has no desire to acquiesce to U.S. economic pressure, as evidenced by the retaliatory boycotts, thus setting the stage for an escalating trade conflict.


The Iran nuclear deal was one of the Obama administration's most notable foreign policy achievements, one that was predicated on a thawing of economic relations between the two nations. But, following the exit of pro-Iran deal members of his cabinet, including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the Trump administration announced that it would indeed withdraw from the agreement and reinstate sanctions against Tehran and any foreign companies that do business in the country.

Earlier this month, the U.S. brought this decision to bear:

The sanctions—which target Iran's ability to purchase U.S. dollars, as well as trade in gold and other precious metals—were met with consternation from many international leaders. And this is just the first move in Trump's offensive against the country, as a second set of potentially more harmful restrictions on Iran's oil industry are set to begin in November. That latter restriction appears especially pointed as Iran exported over 2.1 million barrels of oil a day last year, making the country the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world.

The hope, as the White House sees it, is to negotiate better terms with Iran, and to punish the country's leadership for supposedly not complying with the terms of the original nuclear agreement. Many European countries have instructed businesses to disregard the U.S.'s sanctions—a snub that could potentially lead Tehran to conclude it doesn't need to return to the negotiating table.