Summary of "Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War"

Summary of

Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War

By Alexander George

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Alexander George, Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1991).

George develops a general conceptual framework for coercive diplomacy. He then examines a number of cases of coercive diplomacy, both successful and unsuccessful. Drawing on these cases George offers strategic guidelines for using coercive diplomacy. Part One discusses the general theory of coercive diplomacy. As George explains it, "The general idea of coercive diplomacy is to back one's demand on an adversary with a threat of punishment for noncompliance that he will consider credible and potent enough to persuade him to comply with the demand."[p. 4]

Coercive diplomacy involves four basic variables: the demand, the means used for creating a sense of urgency, the threatened punishment for noncompliance, and the possible use of incentives. Differences in these variables yield five types of coercive diplomacy. George identifies these basic types as the ultimatum, the tacit ultimatum, the "try-and-see" approach, the "gradual turning of the screw,"and finally the "carrot and stick approach".

The logic behind coercive diplomacy assumes that target will behave rationally. However, George concludes that the adversary's perception of the coercing power's motivation and commitment, and the adversary's assessment of the credibility and potency of its threat, play the most significant role in determining the success or failure of a coercive strategy.

In Part Two, George analyzes historical cases of coercive diplomacy. In July 1941, the U.S. threatened Japan with an oil embargo unless Japan withdrew from China. George suggests a number of reasons why coercive diplomacy not only failed, but actually provoked war in this case. In 1961, the U.S. President Kennedy successfully employed coercive diplomacy for the limited objective of defending the royalist forces in Laos. In the Fall of 1962 the Soviet Union deployed ballistic missiles in Cuba. Kennedy again employed coercive diplomacy successfully to compel the Soviet Union to remove the missiles. During the Vietnam War, President Johnson launched air strikes against Hanoi in an unsuccessful attempt to coerce them into ending their support of the Viet Cong forces. In the early 1980s, the U.S. applied coercive diplomacy in Nicaragua to limit the influence of Marxist revolutionaries. However, U.S. pressure ultimately played a small role in ending Sandinista rule in Nicaragua. President Reagan applied coercive diplomacy against Libya in an attempt to end Libyan support of terrorism. While this policy culminated in air strikes against Libya, it is not clear that coercion significantly reduced Libya's terrorist activities.

In late 1990, a U.S. led international coalition of states attempted to use coercive diplomacy to compel Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Initially, the coalition used a "gradual turning of the screw" strategy by imposing and progressively tightening an embargo on Iraqi imports and exports. By early 1991 the strategy had shifted to an ultimatum backed by the threat of military force. Iraq called the coalition's bluff, and war broke out shortly after the ultimatum's January 15 deadline.

In Part Three, George describes contexts in which coercive diplomacy may be an appropriate response, and the factors which make coercive diplomacy likely to be a successful response. George argues that the choice of a particular coercive diplomatic strategy depends crucially on the context of the crisis event. He identifies contextual variables which figure significantly in the choice of a coercive strategy. These variables include the integrative potential of the conflict, the costs of war, the parties' sense of urgency and the presence of allies for each party.

Based on his examination of cases, George argues that there is no single sufficient condition for the successful employment of coercive diplomacy. Instead there are a number of factors which favor, but do not guarantee, the strategy's success. These factors include clear and consistent demands, adequate motivation, ability to instill a sense of urgency in the opponent, and the opponent's fear of escalation. Because the key factors influencing the success or failure of coercive diplomacy are psychological in nature, it is very difficult to predict or guarantee success in any particular case. George concludes that while coercive diplomacy may be less costly than use of military force, it will only rarely be a high-confidence strategy.