A major problem with the current use of sanctions is that the U.S. treats them as an end in and of themselves, rather than as a means to an end.

Sanctions are meant to induce adversaries to come to the negotiating table; when they achieve their goals, they should end. Attacking each and every foreign-policy problem with sanctions will make them more rigid and harder to lift. Whereas policy makers once articulated clear conditions that would lead to sanctions relief, U.S. officials now layer sanctions authorities on top of one another for each new perceived transgression, reads a column published by the Atlantic.

Considering the U.S. sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, the authors recall that these measures went into effect in 2014. But a year later, U.S. officials tied sanctions relief to Moscow's compliance with the Minsk II peace road map, which outlined steps including a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, and the reintegration of the separatist regions.

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As tensions with the Kremlin have grown, the sanctions' goals have seemingly multiplied. When the Trump administration sanctioned major Russian oligarchs in April 2018, the Treasury Department added a laundry list of complaints to its original Ukraine justification, including Russia's support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, its election meddling, and its malicious cyberactivity.

"While all these activities surely warranted pushback from the United States, they've led to a sort of mission creep. Sanctions work best as narrowly targeted measures tied to clear demands – an approach most likely to lead to practical deals," the column says.