The United States has imposed sanctions on foreign adversaries.
The most recent example of this came from the South Carolina State Senate, which passed a bill banning ownership of land in the state by citizens of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Cuba. The bill’s sponsor even compared a planned purchase of South Carolina land by a Chinese biomedical firm with the Trojan Horse plot of Greek mythology.
This move has led to legislation being proposed in at least 11 other states. In Texas, State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has proposed a similar law that has drawn strong condemnation on human rights grounds but has been defended by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor.
However, these proposed laws have drawn criticism from some who say they are nothing more than political grandstanding, aimed at satisfying domestic audiences rather than serving any real national security interests. Some experts argue that these laws could also have unintended consequences, interfering with federal foreign policy goals and creating unnecessary tensions with other countries.
While the executive branch of the federal government has historically been best suited to make foreign policy decisions, Congress has increasingly become involved in sanctioning foreign adversaries. State governments, however, lack the relevant mandate and expertise to engage in foreign policy matters.
Yet, as we have seen, their meddling in foreign policy could be reckless for global diplomacy and US foreign policy. The proposed Texas and South Carolina laws are textbook examples of sanctions as political grandstanding meant for domestic consumption. They are also a reminder of the jingoistic zeal that can be nurtured and exploited by foreign policy amateurs at the state level.
Ultimately, the implementation of these state-level sanctions could have serious consequences for the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy obligations. It remains to be seen how this trend will develop and whether the federal government will take steps to rein in state-level sanctions.