If we don’t value trade in general, what do we mean with our sanctions?

Many liberal democratic governments are sanctioning Russia in response to its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, through restrictions on goods that directly and indirectly support Russia’s military activities and on financial services. I find it striking that public support for the sanctions remains high, even as costs mount for the sanctioning states and some commentators question the impact on Russia. This paper defends a potential value in a liberal democracy’s sanctions against countries that violate ethical standards in their institutions and policies. I argue for the potential value of sanctions as a meaningful expression. A liberal democracy can make a meaningful expression about its principles, by no longer involving itself in trade with a particular state. But I have doubts about whether the liberal democracies are in a good position to act meaningfully in imposing sanctions. Many liberal democracies have taken action to restrict trade in response to their partners’ trade and economic practices, which they judge to be ‘unfair.’ I will argue that some of these actions are inconsistent with their valuation of trade and trading partnerships. If citizens of a liberal democracy do not value trade in general, what do their sanctions mean? I will analyze the need for consistency across trade and other policy areas, in order for liberal democracies to act meaningfully when they sanction particular states.