ABA panel: Sanctions related to national security are on the rise

The use of economic tools to protect national security expanded dramatically in recent years and will expand more in the future, according to panelists in a discussion on “Economic Tools of National Security” at the 32nd Annual Review of the Field of National Security Law conference, sponsored by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security.

Though most people don’t think of sanctions, export controls and foreign investment reviews when they think of national security, these tools are key to the U.S. domestic and foreign policy strategy, said moderator Kristen Eichensehr, director of the National Security Law Center at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The administration of sanctions has recently evolved into a more coordinated effort among U.S. partners, said panelist Andrea Gacki, director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury, which is the office charged with implementing and enforcing economic sanctions on behalf of the U.S. government.

Economic sanctions can now be targeted and scaled to address a threat to U.S. national security, foreign policy or the economy of the United States, Gacki said. “Something that’s really notable about (recent) Russia sanctions is how well they were coordinated through the G-7 leading up to the invasion of Ukraine as troops were amassing at the Ukraine border.”

For example, sanctions in the form of export controls often target individual companies or people for all sorts of reasons related to terrorism, including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or for such abuses as human rights violations and human trafficking, added panelist J. Benton Heath, assistant law professor at Temple University.

“It’s important to note, given what’s been in the press the past few months, freezing is not seizing,” he said. “Sanctions are not generally a tool for seizing assets,” though there are exceptions, such as when the United States has been attacked or is engaged in armed hostilities.

“One thing lawyers persistently have to dispel in the enforcement context is that sanctions only apply to banks,” Gacki said.