For a long time I have been wondering whether there is a specific concept given to the phenomenon that occurs when a fraction of local populations who are at the receiving end of sanctions or any other form of collective punishment by a foreign power (e.g. US economic sanctions and negative advertisement on Iran) turn against their own local government or political system and embrace the power sanctioning them, rather than turning against the power which is punishing them directly (e.g. the oppositions to governments in Russia, Iran, China, etc.)? Is there any theory developed dealing with this social phenomenon and/or with maximizing such an effect?

I'm not interested to know whether or why someone would agree or try to justify the collective punishment of those populations or why such phenomenon takes place within sectors of the sanctioned populations. I'm just interested to know if the mechanism has been named or studied and, if that's the case, what is the name and where to find serious literature studying the phenomenon.

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    Stockholm syndrome for sanctioning powers. Falling in love with people boycotting you. That would be interesting to know if it even happens. Is this even real? Do people turn from their government and embrace the sanctioning powers? Or do they disagree with their government already? Are the ideals already in line with the sanctioning power before sanctions begin?
    – David S
    Jan 21, 2019 at 16:37
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    Well, sometimes sanctions are imposed on countries that are doing some pretty unpleasant things to their citizens. Said citizens are not likely to forget those actions just because of sanctions. Picture this: if China sanctioned the US for some action of Donald Trump, would most of Trump's opponents embrace him? Or would they dislike him even more and blame him for the sanctions?
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 21, 2019 at 20:13
  • @DavidS It really is a sort of Stockholm syndrome en masse. I witnessed it happening closely in several nations worldwide with much detail. This is exactly what sparks my curiosity. There are always oppositions in any countries. But small oppositions can obviously be turned into majorities or more influential movements by foreign powers' systematic erosion of the local economy and value/cultural system. The minority opposition grows by wider sectors of the population embracing the power collectively punishing them and blaming their local governments for the effects of the punishment.
    – Germán
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:22
  • @Obie2.0 please re-read: "I'm not interested to know whether or why someone would agree or try to justify the collective punishment of those populations." The point is not whether people who hate Trump today would love him tomorrow following Chinese sanctions. They wouldn't. The question is what is the name of the phenomenon that occurs when sectors of Trump's own majority support base turn against him due to a bad economy and embrace China following the imposition of Chinese sanctions and constant cultural propaganda which aim to make normal life impossible and depressing for Americans.
    – Germán
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:30
  • @Germán - You're assuming the nature of the phenomenon, though. If sanctions were imposed due to a pre-existing situation, whether or not they exacerbate it, why would you expect the opposition to shift their focus to the sanctioning nation, rather than continuing to focus on their domestic opponents? Take Iran: A large segment of the population was opposed to the theocratic government. Even if they loathe US imposing sanctions, they're unlikely to start supporting the people they've opposed, particularly if it's clear that the sanctions wouldn't have been imposed if they were gone.
    – Obie 2.0
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:42

1 Answer 1


I found your question interesting, so i did a little research. I found out that there are several books and economists discussing the effectiveness of economic sanctions. Most come to the result that they're nearly to never successful and fail to bring movement in political systems. I know that this isn't exactly what you're asking for, but it's a relevant part of the topic.

I think one could conclude that the people rarely blame their own government for sanctions. Nationalism is a common mindset (be it stronger or lesser), which leads to the "us against them"-attitude.
In my personal observation people only tend to blame their government if their situation is horrible (North Korea, Chile under Pinochet, maybe Venezuela right now), but if that's the case, people have worse worries than some sanctions of foreign countries.

  • The page you reference says "the effectiveness is debated", with a study case cited noting that over 1/3 of cases were successful. That is nowhere near saying "they are nearly to never successful and fail to bring movement in political systems". That is actually saying "they are successful and bring movement in political systems 1 out of every 3 times they are implemented". One other study claims the opposite. Why do you seem to imply the debate is settled? Even more, failure to end in that specific goal (regime change) doesn't mean at all that punished populations are unaffected.
    – Germán
    Mar 6, 2019 at 21:16
  • The Wikipedia article you shared states that "regime change" is the "most frequent foreign-policy objective of economic sanctions". Can one really believe that regimes that spend fortunes and centuries carrying out scientific-grade research about societies and population control/nudge take the trouble to sanction other populations hoping to achieve regime change relying on a 4% probability? That is well below randomness! Wouldn't they know that praying for regime change would give them higher odds? I'd say it sounds much more like they are convinced in the "1 out of 3" side of the debate.
    – Germán
    Mar 6, 2019 at 21:24
  • Well, i think that depends on how you define percentages into speech. In my understanding, a rate of success between 4% and 38% doesn't sound promising. If someone would offer you a deal with those values of success I'm sure you wouldn't take it, as this are very low rates. So did you ask your question for information or conformation? If the letter, i won't be able to provide.
    – miep
    Mar 6, 2019 at 21:28
  • Also i have a strong feeling that you simplify the motivation behind sanctions. There are many (inofficial) interests playing in account, the success of the sanction sometimes not even needed if you profit from the process.
    – miep
    Mar 6, 2019 at 21:30
  • The question is very simple: is there a name for the phenomenon when a sector of a population... You are answering with success rates of regime change, whereas regime change is not my interest. I am asking about when a sector (not an overwhelming majority even) of the population is turned against their own government. What is the name. What does success rate of regime change have to do with that? That 1 out of 3 sanctioned countries experiences regime change is quite huge. Because the other 2 will have probably experienced significant social upheavals anyway regardless of the result.
    – Germán
    Mar 6, 2019 at 21:36

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