The text definition of economic warfare is far too broad, including tactical and strategic actions taken during active warfare to weaken an enemy combatant’s ability to continue such activity by denial of resources and materials necessary to continue fighting, as well as reduce the willingness of the population to continue the war. Discussion of “economic warfare” should be limited to actions such as sanctions, embargos, boycotts, tariffs and other activities that do not include actual physical violence and/or destruction.

Economic warfare  is much less likely to be successful against an opponent who is large and has a significant resource and population base and/or allies with resources which may be employed to supplement those of the primary opponent. Current examples are China and India purchases of gas and oil from Russia, which in turn provide funds for Russia to purchase arms from Iran to supplement its inadequate production capability.

Just as in active warfare, economic warfare, especially sanctions, cause significant humanitarian harm, particularly to the young and poor population of the state attacked.  The harm suffered by these parties seems to have little effect on the will to continue the competition on the part of, generally  , autocratic leaders who do not feel the pain.

Even considering relatively low effectiveness, economic warfare is preferable to direct physical conflict.

NOT Discussed: It has been suggested that western success in the Cold War was the result of an arms race between the west, particularly the US, and the USSR which the USSR could not sustain.  However, it was a decision by USSR leadership to resign from the battle and not physically restrain the political unrest which led to regime change and opening of borders by Warsaw Pact states..

John W. Bates, Ph.D.