This interview is part of a series of interviews with early career scholars and practitioners. Interviews discuss current research and projects, as well as advice for other early-career researchers.
Dawid Walentek (PhD), is a political economist at the University of Warsaw. Dawid’s area of research is conflict and cooperation in international relations. He has published in International Interactions, Public Choice and in the Journal of European Integration. His paper on economic peace received the EISA Best Graduate Paper Award in 2019. Dawid is also a member of the Center for Complex Systems Studies (CCSS) at Utrecht University. Prior to joining academia, he was a Commercial Officer at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in The Hague.
What (or who) caused the most significant changes in your thinking or encouraged you to pursue your area of research?
In the summer of 2014, Russia introduced counter-sanctions against, among others, the European Union. At the time, I was working at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in The Hague, in the commercial section which was directly under the Ministry of Economy. The morning after the measures were introduced, we received a list of products that needed to find an alternative market – immediately. The Russian counter-sanctions targeted European food exports and this was an important market for Polish producers. At the time, the Minister of Economy was Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechociński of the PSL, an agrarian party which was a junior member of the coalition with the ruling Civic Platform, adding additional political weight to the issue of cons – Russian sanctions. In 2014, Poland’s Prime Minister was Donald Tusk and Poland was among the most hawkish member states regarding restrictions on Russia, positioning itself as a representative of Kyiv in Brussels. First of all, it has created a fascinating dynamic, with conflicting interests at the national and international level. Second, it made me think more about sanctions – how, in a liberal order, states and leaders who consider themselves at the forefront of liberalism have chosen economic means to achieve political ends. I address the first in an article in the Journal of European Integration looking at the consensus in the European Council on sanctions against Russia, and I study the latter in a work document on economic peace and my thesis more generally.
What are the main factors that lead States to resort to sanctions rather than other tools in international relations?
A Western diplomat told me at a small conference of scholars and sanctions practitioners that “sometimes you have to do more than diplomatic pressure, but you’re not going to war; then you use sanctions”. And that seems to be the logic that drives Democratic leaders – and democracies are the most prolific users of this tool. The underlying mechanism appears to be twofold. On the one hand, Democratic leaders seem to be getting a gain popularity to engage in economic sanctions – regardless of the outcome. Second, democracies are more likely to succeed in threat stage economic sanctions – due to higher hearing costs for stepping back and lower rates of uncertainty about their intentions. These two mechanisms are mutually reinforcing, which probably explains part of the rise in economic coercion since the end of the Cold War.
What conditions make sanctions more or less effective?
i think there is a growing consensus on the effectiveness of sanctions. To begin with, sanctions are more likely to succeed if they are more costly for the targeted state. And the same goes for sanctions threats, the potential high costs increase a threat’s chance of success. This is rather intuitive, but there are cases that significantly challenge this logic, for example Iraq, which lost around half of its GDP due to sanctions – and Russia is currently on this trajectory as well. Second, the extent to which states know each other at the threat stage is important for a threat to succeed; one way to measure this knowledge is to look at wedding rings. Again, it’s kind of intuitive, because cheap talk won’t get you far. Third, the possibility that the domestic public of the sanctioned state will perceive the sanctions as costly seems to be greatest also at the threat stage – this makes hindsight an attractive avenue. Fourth, we also know that multilateral sanctions are, on average, more efficient. At the same time, we have important cases that do not follow this trend and this makes it difficult to discuss effectiveness. In addition, the subject is often studied from a particular institutional perspective – for example the the effectiveness of EU sanctions – which is very relevant, but also makes it more difficult to provide a satisfactory answer to the question “when do sanctions work?” “. Certainly a matter of growing urgency.
Have the EU sanctions against Russia been effective and do you think these sanctions will last?
This question is closely related to the previous one. The mere idea of success, or being effective, in this case is problematic. Here, I would say that Western sanctions against Russia have been effective – if possible – because they have tamed Putin’s ambitions. However, the situation in Ukraine is far from optimal and the commissioning of Nord Stream 2 is likely to deteriorate it further. I think the European Council will keep the sanctions in place – Russia is doing little to de-escalate the conflict, and the poisoning and imprisonment of Navalny was a wake-up call to European elites. The lifting of sanctions and the opening of Nord Stream 2 would send a signal of weakness on the part of the EU; and that is not what European leaders want at the moment.
What are you currently working on?
In terms of sanctions, I work on cooperation in terms of enforcement. I want to know under what circumstances sanctions shippers decide to work together on a sanctions regime. Preliminary results show two mechanisms at play. First, I identify an important role in state reputation for adherence to all past sanctions regimes. Second, repeated interaction appears to foster cooperation on sanctions. In other words, it seems that when it comes to multilateral economic coercion, coalition building is guided by two rules: “I will do to you, what you have done to others” and “I will do to you, what you have done tome”. I have collected these findings in a work document. Interestingly, the findings on economic sanctions cooperation are consistent with recent theoretical work on the development of cooperation in a broader sense.
I am currently a post-doc at the University of Warsaw, working on a project focusing on refugee policy across Europe. Our aim is to move away from literature mainly focused on the type of migrants or refugees that Europeans want or do not want and to focus on the type of refugee policy desired in the EU. We plan to investigate questions of European solidarity, the right to work or move, or the costs of politics. We recently carried out a large experimental survey in 10 Member States with approximately 16,000 participants. You can read more about this ongoing project on our website.
What is the most important advice you could give to young university students?
A doctorate is a job and you are no longer in teaching. While being a student is a great lifestyle, making your life a PhD can be exhausting. Take your vacation and claim overtime, don’t check your email after work (it’s tough, I’m typing these words on a Tuesday at 9:30 p.m.), and don’t assume people will be working weekends
Further Reading on Electronic International Relations