Strategic Coercion: Concepts and Cases

Strategic Coercion: Concepts and Cases

Strategic Coercion: Concepts and Cases

Strategic Coercion: Concepts and Cases


For three decades the analysis of strategic coercion has been dominated by two landmark books: Tom Schelling's Arms and Influence and Alex George's Strategic Diplomacy, both of which addressed the requirements of American foreign policy during the cold war. This book argues for a reappraisal of the role of strategic coercion - defined as the deliberate and purposive use of overt threats to influence another's strategic choices. It emphasizes the importance of drawing on the experiences of countries other than the United States, and of considering the new circumstances of the post cold war world. An international team of scholars, led by Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, provides critical commentaries on the work of Schelling and George and a series of fascinating case studies. These cover most regions of the world, a variety of different actors - including terrorist groups - and different forms of coercion - including the use of economic sanctions.


The study of coercion in international relations remains dominated by work undertaken in the United States during the cold-war period and distorted through the preoccupation with deterrence. In the context of the sharp East-West divide during the four decades following the Second World War the most pressing strategic problem for the United States was to contain Soviet power. This involved a very specific form of coercion, one state dissuading another from initiating hostile acts, in a very specific form, involving the two superpowers and the threat of nuclear war.

The prominence of deterrence, and the assumption that this was the American strategy of choice at times of crisis, led to empirical studies which examined a wide range of cases to assess the efficacy of deterrent threats. This was often with the explicit purpose of drawing lessons for the conduct of American foreign policy. Coercion of a more general sort got less attention. Those interested in situations in which threats were being used to pressure others into doing things they did not want to do largely relied on two books, one by Tom Schelling which approached the topic deductively, and the other by a team led by Alexander George, which developed a conceptual framework through a number of case-studies.

Both books were produced by leading theorists of deterrence, and conceived during the 1960s. They therefore reflected the concerns of the time. That eventful decade began with American strategic theorists seeking to come to terms with the consequences of the nuclear age for great power diplomacy. The higher nuclear balance between the superpowers was recognized to have reduced their freedom of manœuvre. The value of nuclear weapons in reducing the appeal of all-out war was very much appreciated, but this then put a premium on developing forms of military power which did not carry a risk of catastrophic escalation and were relevant to situations in which less than vital interests were involved.

There was therefore a search for concepts and tactics that could allow the United States to exploit its military power in pursuit of its interests without . . .

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