Coercive Military Strategy

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview
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Wars are the products of societies and cultures; the American way of war has not been the English, the Japanese, or the Russian. This variety in ways of making war produces equal diversity in the role of coercion in states' military strategies. Although much use of force is coercive, an important question for theory and policy is whether coercion is at the center or the periphery of a state's military strategy. Strategy is a purposeful activity, but it is also a work of art that takes place within a context of historical uncertainty and indeterminacy.1 Stumbling into the coercive use of force does not count as a strategy, only as a blunder. And when coercion and strategy do go together, policymakers and commanders will find that the coordination and cooperation demanded of them by coercive military strategy is as hard on the nerves in crisis and in wartime as it is on the budget in peacetime.

In this study I argue that coercive military strategy is one aspect of persuasion supported by the threat or use of force.2 The use of force may not be for the purpose of combat, although it can be. Force can also be used effectively for political purposes by being threatened but not used. Sometimes troops are moved to a border, or ships are steamed toward another country's harbor, simply to send a message. The message can be ambiguous but nevertheless powerful, opening the possibility of violent clashes between armed combatants without closing the door to further negotiation between potential adversaries. Coercive strategy is recognized by its subtlety and dexterity, even when it is necessary to employ a blunt edge. Coercion flows around and envelops a target instead of crushing it. Coercion works on the enemy's mind and brain in the first instance, and on the enemy's "body" of fighting forces and logistics in the second, as a means to mastery of the enemy's soul.

In a sense, all use of force by states is psychological as well as physical. War is not a shooting gallery. States seek power, glory, territory, and other spoils of war, or they seek to induce others to comply with their


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