Nations that may disagree with deploying sanctions (Russia, most likely) can argue – correctly – that such punishments have never toppled a determined, repressive dictator. But that should not be the goal of multilateral sanctions.
Rather, an intense and coordinated array of coercive measures as outlined below, aims to generate greater financial hardship deeper into Assad’s support network. They would constrain his ability to pay and reward those engaged in the attacks, and disrupt the flow of ammunition and weapons available to his security forces.
Such sanctions have led to severe constraints on Muammar Qaddafi’s firepower and to defections of Libyan elites. They also have helped to protect some civilians in internal wars in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Why sanctions could work in Syria
In this particular case, sanctions have a heightened probability of eroding the repressive capabilities of the government. First, economic deterioration, lack of access to foreign banks, and travel restrictions create new conditions whereby internal actors in Syria will begin to weigh more directly the costs against the benefits of remaining tied to the regime.