22 Mar 2022


Implementation Barriers and Policy Design Deficiencies

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When a policy and its associate programs do not work, it results in policy failure. Failure is an inevitable part of life, but policy failure in the public sector can have significantly damaging consequences to those affected. Policy failure can also damage the public trust of the political system, cost the careers of the involved individuals are cause injury or loss of life in some extreme cases. It important to prevent such awful scenarios but in most public policy realms there are the majority of cases where the involved parties do not learn lessons from their mistakes, they bury their mistakes rather than own them and take responsibility, they deflect the responsibility as if asking whose failure was it? This results in same or similar mistakes being repeated over and over. 

Policy failure in simple terms is lack of success or the lack or deficiency of desirable quality from the policy. Defining policy failure is still difficult because there is no clear-cut difference between success and failure (McConnell, 2010). Policies cannot be termed as outright success or failure because it is evaluated from different perspectives. Some of the perspectives used in evaluating the policy show success while others show failure. It is also a very subject matter depending on who is doing the evaluation and which side of the policy they look at. Policy protagonists tend to make claims of the policy being successful while antagonists of the policies look at their failures. In reality, most policy outcomes are usually between the two extremes. There are three realms of a policy from which it should be evaluated; processes, programs, and politics. Dye (2005), argues the government in most cases does not know what it is doing because it does too little to answer basic questions regarding its policies. A government may make policies with good programs that are well organized, adequately financed, efficiently operated and with support from major interest groups but fail to tell the citizens how the program or policy is beneficial to the society or whether it aims at achieving immediate or long range results. 

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A policy is deemed to have failed if it does not achieve the goals that its proponents intended to achieve and the opposition is great or non-existent even if it has minimal aspects of success (McConnell 2015). Failures of policies should be evaluated wholesomely as opposed to specific failure such as implementation failure, governance failure or state failure because it could be an indication of a broader failure in governing. Moreover, a wholesome evaluation of policy failure helps to unveil not only the proximate cause of policy failure but also the deeply seated roots of failure. Policy failure should have productive functions to the policymakers so that they may learn valuable lessons to help them eliminate the undesirable structures of the policy. Good policy design is important in ensuring the success of the policy. According to McConnell (2015), most policy failure is caused by the over-reliance on ex-post evaluation of implemented policies while policy makers had an opportunity to evaluate the likely ex-ante impacts of the policies that could advice on its refinement, change or termination. Politics is an integral part of the policy that governs the societal power framework. A policy that fails to reduce inequality, redress power imbalance and does not involve stakeholders in formulating policy goals and evaluating its results is a failed policy.

Rarick, C. A. (2007). Economic Sanctions: Failed Foreign Policy Tool and a Cost to American Business. Economic Affairs, 27(3), 65-70. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0270.2007.00757.x is an article that highlights how economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool and its integral programs have failed and instead became a cost burden to American business. Rarick (2007), argues that United states has increasingly used economic sanctions in the recent years to punish countries, organizations, and individuals. While the government has passed some of the sanctions for a good cause such as curbing drug trafficking, the sanctions undermine the economic freedom of the Americans (organizations and individuals) and cause unnecessary agony to the recipient countries. They cause a collateral damage that makes their use controversial and thus to a high degree they do not meet their objective. The article gives several examples that show the absurdity of the American economic sanctions. A conference held at Hotel Maria Isabel Sheraton in Mexico City where Cuban government officials met American business representatives to discuss possible future joint ventures between Cuba and the United States was terminated after the United States Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control served the hotel with a notice that it was violating the Trading with the Enemy Act. The hotel partially owned by Sheraton an American company ordered the Cuban officials to vacate the hotel because it faced the risk of $1 million fine. On the other hand, Mexican officials were outraged by the action; they charged the hotel management with illegal discrimination and closed the hotel for violating the Mexican law. While economic sanctions have for long been employed as foreign policy tools, this is a good example of a policy hurting the same people it was meant to protect. The Sheraton hotel was in a difficult situation just because of the sanction. They either chose to abide by the United States law and face Mexican penalties or the vice versa.

The US Department of Treasury, through the office of foreign asset control (OFAC), publishes a list of specially designated nationals (individuals and organizations) that American citizens must not do business. Penalties apply for violation of the OFAC regulations are o to $1million and possible imprisonment terms. The United States is the leading sanction imposing country in the world. Its sanctions are created via legislation o executive presidential orders. The international emergency powers act (IEPA)title 50 sec 1701 gives the president powers to give executive orders to impose the sanction, and it is the clause most referred to when making the sanctions. The clause states that the use of this power is limited and may only be when the United States is faced with an unusual and extra-ordinary threat with respect to which a national emergency has been declared for the purpose and not for any other purpose. However, the United States apply sanctions even when these conditions are not met. There are several occasions when the sanctions have produced undesired outcomes leading to the conclusion that economic sanction as a foreign policy does not work. The U.S economic sanction in Burma in 2003 for failure to adopt democracy and abuse of human right on minority populations within its borders gave the Chinese a great opportunity for new business opportunities there. Burma built stronger ties with North Korea, Iran, and China that are perceived threats to the United States. The grain embargo that President Jimmy Carter imposed on the former Soviet Union Afghanistan led America to lose estimated sales of $2-3 billion. The Soviet Union purchased grain from other countries and the embargo failed to drive the Soviets from Afghanistan but acted as foreign advantage to American competitors.

In another example, in the 1980s, the United States prohibited the exporting of the equipment for building the Siberian pipeline to prevent Europe from being too dependent on Russian energy. The sanctions aimed at slowing the slowing the progress of its construction hoping that the project would be abandoned. However, rather than the sanctions slowing down the construction, it empowered the Japanese and European companies to explore Arctic drilling technology and thus competitors on future international construction projects.

The costs of sanction to American business have been immense and have not been able to achieve the intended objectives. As a result of imposing sanctions, America has incurred direct costs through loss of sales, reduced employment for their citizens and loss of asset value in the target countries. There are also indirect costs resulting from the sanctions such as lower economies of scale that lead high costs of production. There are potential costs that arise as indigenous firms set up production in sanctioned markets and grow to be future competitors of American firms. Although economic sanctions are used as a peaceful alternative to military action, they hinder the liberty of citizens in the sanctioned and in the sanctioning countries. The people that the sanctions intended to help end up being the people hurt most by the sanctions. The rationale behind sanctioning is to cause pain the citizens of the sanctioned countries so that they in return pressure the government to conform to the demands of the sanctioning country. Thus, the sanctioning country uses the citizens of the sanctioned country as means to achieve their foreign policy objective (Pape 1997).

A report by the United States general accounting office (GAO)indicates that sanctions are imposed to serve multiple goals and are more successful in achieving the less articulated and unambitious goals such as deterring future wrong doings and upholding the international norms through punishing a nation for wrong doing GAO (1992). Economic suctions have been less successful in achieving the primary objectives of the sanctioning country such as making it comply with stated demands. Thus, sometimes the policy makers have overrated what sanctions can achieve. In most cases, sanctions have succeeded in raising the cost of trade and finance to the targeted nations but have not ruined their economies. When the sanctioning country and the target country have a mutually beneficial relationship, both countries are hurt by the sanction.

Economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool can also be evaluated from an ethics perspective. Hurting innocent citizens in a country is a bad means to achieve a good end (Rarick, 2007). Consequentialist ethics judge an action or policy as right or wrong depending on its consequences, in this case lowering educational, healthcare and economic systems of the recipient country. Utilitarianism judges an action as good or ethical if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Most of the time sanctions are not effective thus if the suffering that the citizens of the sanctioned country undergo bears no fruits to justify it then it is unethical to impose economic sanctions.


Dye T. R. (2005).Understanding public policy. 11th ed. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

GAO (1992). Economic sanctions: effectiveness as tools of foreign policy. Retrieved from; http://www.gao.gov/assets/160/151591.pdf  

McConnell, A. (2010). Policy success, policy failure and grey areas in-between. Journal of Public Policy , 30 (03), 345-362.

McConnell, A. (2015). ‘ What is policy failure? A primer to help navigate the maze ’. Public Policy and Administration, 30 (3-4) , pp.221-242.

Pape, R. A. (1997). Why economic sanctions do not work. International Security , 22 (2), 90-136.

Rarick, C. A. (2007). Economic Sanctions: Failed Foreign Policy Tool and a Cost to American Business . Economic Affairs , 27 (3), 65-70. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0270.2007.00757.x

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