Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Give Peace a Chance: First, Try Coercive Diplomacy

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Give Peace a Chance: First, Try Coercive Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Since the 11 September terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that it is not willing to accept the status quo in Iraq. It has vigorously asserted that Saddam Hussein's continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and his past links to terrorism could make his regime the next target in the "war on terrorism."1 At the same time, virtually all Nato allies and every one of America's regional strategic partners have disagreed with the use of military force either to compel Iraqi compliance with Security Council resolutions or to topple Saddam's regime.2 The result is a growing divergence between the United States and its European allies and Middle Eastern partners at a time when, more than ever, the willing assistance of these states is needed if counterterrorism against al-Qa`ida is to succeed.

Unfortunately, as the rhetoric has grown more heated, pundits on each side have emphasized the dangers of their rivals' preferred strategy while whitewashing the shortcomings of their own. Hence Americans have increasingly been led to view the Europeans as "free-riders" and to pay little heed to the concerns of Arab states for regional stability.3 Europeans in turn complain of American unilateralism and hegemonic ambitions, ignoring in the case of Iraq how their own policies have shaped the growing tendency of the United States toward self-reliance. Meanwhile, the Arab governments, whose support for military action against Iraq has been less than enthusiastic since the end of the Gulf War, find their own national agendas increasingly co-opted by popular outrage over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fueled by a perception that the United States deliberately chooses not to restrain its Israeli "puppet."

There is a way, however, to break the impasse between the United States and a number of key states whose cooperation is critical not only for potential military operations against Iraq but also for the broader war on terrorism. It would involve delinking the Iraqi question from the war on terrorism and undertaking a new diplomatic offensive to compel Iraqi compliance with existing Security Council resolutions. This approach would avoid reducing Washington's choice to the two unsatisfactory extremes of unilateral action against Saddam or an outright abandonment of the leverage gained by the Gulf War coalition.

Such an approach would not be the first time the United States used coercive diplomacy as a means of bringing about allied consensus on Iraq: "Although the strategy of coercive diplomacy had little chance of success [in 1990-91], the attempt to employ it in the hope of avoiding war was necessary for building and maintaining international and domestic support for the objective of liberating Kuwait. Ironically, the failure of coercive diplomacy was necessary to gain support for war when war became the last resort."4

Coercive diplomacy against Iraq in late 2002 represents an opportunity to change the rules of the game. There are reasons to hope that the approach would succeed; yet even if it is doomed to failure, by making the attempt the United States would demonstrate that the Iraqi regime's belligerent and intransigent attitude, not American warmongering, is the root of the conflict. Nothing is likely to make American military action, if that is ultimately required, popular, but giving diplomacy a final chance might make it possible for key allies and regional partners to support it.

The first section below addresses the strategic objectives of the United States concerning Iraq and identifies a number of specific reasons why Washington cannot indefinitely accept the status quo. The argument then turns to why coercive diplomacy should be the principal means for pursuing American strategic priorities in Iraq, laying out the case for postponing unilateral use of force and assessing coercive diplomacy's strengths and weaknesses as a tool for accomplishing U.S. …

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