Coercive Military Strategy

By Powell, Bridget | Air & Space Power Journal, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Coercive Military Strategy


Powell, Bridget, Air & Space Power Journal


Coercive Military Strategy by Stephen J. Cimbala. Texas A&M University Press, John H. Lindsey Building, Lewis Street, College Station, Texas 7784M354, 1998, 240 pages, $39.95.

The United States is no longer fighting the cold war, and the strategies of mutual assured destruction (MAD) and strategic nuclear deterrence are no longer sufficient. With military operations in the post-cold-war era more likely to fall into the category of military operations other than war (MOOTW), including counterdrug and peacekeeping operations, we need a new strategy. In his book Coercive Military Strategy, political scientist Stephen Cimbala argues that this new face of war requires a different way of looking at strategy. Cimbala recognizes that MAD is not a strategy for the future, and he introduces the concept of "coercive military strategy" to replace those strategies prevalent during a time when everyone assumed that the use of-nuclear weapons was inevitable.

Coercive military strategy, as Cimbala defines the term, employs specific, graduated means to achieve policy objectives while adjusting the means and ends to the particular conflict or situation. Since the possibility of total war is now remote, policy makers need a tool that is more compromising than the threat of total nuclear annihilation. He promotes this idea successfully because he has accurately assessed a void that we need to address. Although coercive military strategy may not be a new idea, Cimbala articulates it in such a way that it becomes newly relevant.

It is not surprising that the author argues so effectively for the need of coercive military strategy since he has written almost two dozen books on international strategic issues. As in many of these other works, Cimbala uses historical examples of successes and failures of coercive military strategy to create a prescription for its use in the future. This method of using historical examples to support his point is effective because it compels the reader to reach the only sensible conclusion-that coercive military strategy is a necessary tool for future strategists because, without it, they will find themselves stymied in their attempts to craft a policy of diplomatic suasion (that is, convincing others to do, or not to do, something). Having coercive military strategy as a potential bargaining tool will effectively increase the negotiating ability of policy makers.

Cimbala did not set out to draft a guidebook for negotiation. What he does is present the idea of coercive military strategy and place it in its appropriate historical context. He examines the spectrum from the cold war and the Cuban missile crisis to Operation Desert Storm and collective security operations. In each example, he looks at how coercive military strategy was-or was notused. During his discussion of the Vietnam Wara time during which, according to many commentators, coercive military strategy was used but failed-he argues convincingly to the contrary.

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