Some scholars have suggested that sanctions are doing more than meets the eye (Drezner 2003). Sanctions may indeed be a signaling mechanism that states use to indicate where they stand on an issue or the foreign policy of another state. We agree with this analysis, but find current explanations of sanctions episodes inadequate. In order to make the argument that states use sanctions as a signaling mechanism it is necessary to know something about the states and their position in the international community. We employ network analysis to understand what international trade networks look like and to determine which actors in the network are utilizing sanctions and who they are sanctioning. This helps us to get a better handle on what exactly it is that states are trying to do when they impose sanctions.
We argue that sanctions more than simply signals of states' policy preferences. Indeed, sanctions are a tool that central states use to promote regimes and enforce norms within those regimes. A sanction against a partner state within a trade regime, for example, flags a violation of norms and thereby strengthens the norm and the regime.
We test our explanation using a logistic regression on thirty years of sanctions episodes. In support of our theory, we find that the most economically central states are threatening and imposing as well as receiving sanctions at an exponential rate compared to non-central states.