Are Arms Embargoes Really Effective?

A closer look into arms transfers, embargoes, and conflicts

Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Produced by Jeremy C.F. Lin


Following the government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the European Union announced an arms embargo against China.

However, the European Union did not set a common position on which arms items would be subject to the embargo, and members interpreted it differently.

In any case, Russia has been by far the most important supplier of arms to China since the embargo was imposed.

When countries don't follow the terms can result in ineffective embargoes, however, symbolic embargoes are often equally inffective.


The EU imposed an embargo on Myanmar in 1991 due to concerns about internal repression, regional instability and other human rights violations> It was merely symbolic, because no EU countries were exporting arms to Myanmar anyway. And again, Russia has been the main supplier of arms to Myanmar in recent years.

And Myanmar was not the only country where embargo was simply symbolic.

North Korea

Countries in the communist bloc supplied large quantities arms to North Korea in the 1980s. But that largely ceased with the end of the Cold War. It response to a claimed nuclear test by North Korea in 2006, the UN and EU impose embargoes on North Korea. However, And by the time the embargoes were imposed, almost all international arms exports to this pariah state had already ceased.

Again, the embargoes were largely symbolic.


In the 1980s, Syria received most of its arms imports from countries in the Soviet bloc, especially Czechoslovakia. Imports were low from the end of the Cold War until the years preceding the Syrian civil war. The EU and Arab League imposed an arms embargo in 2011. But Russia continued to supply arms to the Assad regime.