International sanctions are political and economic decisions that are part of diplomatic efforts by countries, multilateral or regional organizations against states or organizations either to protect national security interests, or to protect international law, and defend against threats to international peace and security. These decisions principally include the temporary imposition on a target of economic, trade, diplomatic, cultural or other restrictions (sanctions measures) that are lifted when the motivating security concerns no longer apply, or when no new threats have arisen.
According to the Charter of the United Nations, only the UN Security Council has a mandate by the international community to apply sanctions (Article 41) that must be complied with by all UN member states (Article 2,2).
They serve as the international community’s most powerful peaceful means to prevent threats to international peace and security or to settle them. Sanctions do not include the use of military force. However, if sanctions do not lead to the diplomatic settlement of a conflict, the use of force can be authorized by the Security Council separately under Article 42.
UN sanctions should not be confused with unilateral sanctions that are imposed by individual countries in furtherance of their strategic interests. Typically intended as strong economic coercion, measures applied under unilateral sanctions can range between coercive diplomatic efforts, economic warfare, or as preludes to war.