Coercive Military Strategy

Coercive Military Strategy

Coercive Military Strategy

Coercive Military Strategy


Coercion is persuasion supported by the threat or use of force. Just as warfare is often "diplomacy carried out by other means", coercion -- the threat of combat or the threat of an escalation in the intensity of combat -- is a more subtle method of dispute that shades the spectrum between diplomacy and warfare. Understanding of coercive military strategy is a prerequisite to the successful making of either policy or war.

In Coercive Military Strategy, Stephen J. Cimbala shows that coercive military strategy is a necessary part of any diplomatic-strategic recipe for success. Few wars are total wars, fought to annihilation, and military power is inherently political, employed for political purpose, in order to advance the public agenda of a state, so in any war there comes a time when a diplomatic resolution may be possible. To that end, coercive strategy should be flexible, for there are as many variations to it as there are variations in wars and warfare.

Cimbala observes several cases of applying coercive strategy in the twentieth century: the U.S. strategy of limited war during the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which both the United States and the Soviet Union applied coercive strategy; Desert Storm, in which the Coalition Forces could practice coercion within the framework of large-scale, but limited, war; and the Vietnam War, in which U.S. coercive strategy was ultimately a failure.

Additionally, Cimbala examines coercion and the theory of collective security, which implies a willingness on the part of individual states, such as the NATO nations, to combine against any aspiring aggressor.

With his examples, and the arguments they illustrate, Cimbala shows thatalthough coercive strategy is a remedy for neither the ailments of U.S. national security nor world conflict, it will become more important in peace, crisis, and even war in the next century, when winning with the minimum of for


The study of military strategy attempts to explain how armies and states ought to set out to win or prevent wars and why they succeed or fail. There is no universal "correct" strategy: all is dependent upon time, place, and circumstance. This variability of conditions under which fighting or prevention of war takes place is itself a constant, if an elusive one. Military strategy is inseparable from political, social, cultural, and historical context.

In this study, I develop the idea of coercive military strategy, explaining why mastery of the principles of military coercion is a necessary condition for success in war or diplomacy. In brief, an understanding of coercive military strategy is a necessary condition for policy makers, military leaders, and scholars who hope to understand and to manage favorably the forces at work in the post-Cold War world. Appreciation of the context for successful or failed military coercion is a necessary constituent for obtaining political or military objectives at an acceptable cost.

Theories about the coercive use of military power have suffered from disbelief on the part of military professionals and charges of American ethnocentrism laid down by scholars. There are good reasons for the skepticism: coercive military strategies have been wrongly presented, and mistakenly applied, more than once. Nevertheless, this introduction and the chapters that follow argue that coercive military strategy is not necessarily a culture-bound product of American political and social theory. More emphatically, this book rejects the argument that coercive strategy is of little importance to politicians and commanders. Coercive military strategy has the potential to contribute to the best, and the worst, results in war and policy; the skill of the swordsmith cannot be separated from the sharpness of the blade.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.