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(ĕmbär`gō), prohibition by a country of the departure of ships or certain types of goods from its ports. Instances of confining all domestic ships to port are rare, and the Embargo Act of 1807Embargo Act of 1807,
passed Dec. 22, 1807, by the U.S. Congress in answer to the British orders in council restricting neutral shipping and to Napoleon's restrictive Continental System. The U.S.
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 is the sole example of this in American history. The detention of foreign vessels has occurred more often, either as an act of reprisalreprisal,
in international law, the forcible taking, in time of peace, by one country of the property or territory belonging to another country or to the citizens of the other country, to be held as a pledge or as redress in order to satisfy a claim.
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 designed to coerce diplomatic redress, or in contemplation of war with the country to which the vessels belonged. Embargoes on goods, however, are far more common. Although an embargo can cripple a nation's economy, the use of an embargo alone has typically failed to achieve the goal its imposition was intended to secure.

The United States has used embargoes for both economic and strategic purposes. An example of the former was the prohibition of gold bullion exports in 1933, while the latter is seen in the embargo placed on certain war materials in 1940. An embargo may also be used as a political device. Thus, in 1912 the president was empowered to forbid the export of munitions to Latin America. The Neutrality ActNeutrality Act,
law passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Aug., 1935. It was designed to keep the United States out of a possible European war by banning shipment of war matériel to belligerents at the discretion of the President
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 of 1936 gave the president a similar power with regard to warring nations anywhere.

Embargoes were authorized as a form of sanctionsanction,
in law and ethics, any inducement to individuals or groups to follow or refrain from following a particular course of conduct. All societies impose sanctions on their members in order to encourage approved behavior.
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 by the Covenant of the League of Nations, and were applied against Paraguay in 1934 in the Chaco dispute (see Gran ChacoGran Chaco
or Chaco,
c.250,000 sq mi (647,500 sq km), extensive lowland plain, central South America. It is sparsely populated and is divided among Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina. Some of the highest temperatures in the southern continent are reached there.
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) with Bolivia, and against Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia (1935–36). Article 41 of the United Nations Charter permits embargoes in cases of military aggression, and during the Korean War, the United Nations called upon its members to refrain from sending arms and strategic materials to territory controlled by the North Koreans and Chinese.

In 1960, the United States imposed an embargo of all goods, excluding food and medicine, on Cuba, and in 1962 the Organization of American StatesOrganization of American States
(OAS), international organization, created Apr. 30, 1948, at Bogotá, Colombia, by agreement of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico,
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, amid great controversy, established its own Cuban trade embargo (since abandoned). Since the 1970s, economic sanctions of this sort have increasingly been used by the United States and the United Nations against nations that disturb peaceful relations, such as Iraq (imposed in 1990; exemption to sell oil in order to buy food and medicine granted in 1996) or Yugoslavia (imposed in 1992; eased in 1995 with removal tied to compliance with the Dayton Accords; new embargoes imposed by NATO during the Kosovo crisis in 1999); or against nations that have maintained white minority governments, such as Rhodesia (in the 1970s) or South Africa (in the 1980s).



in international law, a term that originally referred to a prohibition by a sovereign authority forbidding ships of other countries or its own ships to leave its ports. The term subsequently was used to refer to an edict or order prohibiting the shipment of goods or currency into or out of a country. An embargo may be imposed either in wartime or in peacetime. In wartime, an embargo becomes, in effect, a kind of economic blockade. In peacetime an embargo is used to influence, inflict reprisals on, or exert economic and financial pressure on other countries.

The UN Charter provides for the imposition of an embargo as a collective repressive measure against a state whose actions represent a threat to international security.


1. a government order prohibiting the departure or arrival of merchant ships in its ports
2. any legal stoppage of commerce