Hollow Threats: Why Coercive Diplomacy Fails
Air University Maxwell Air Force Base United States
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Despite possessing overwhelming military superiority, the United States fails more often than it succeeds when it attempts to coerce an adversary with the threat of force. This study identifies four factors that explain successful coercion relative menace, credibility, consistency, and the cumulative factor. To appear menacing, the US must shape its ultimatum in such a way that the adversary expects to suffer enough pain from resisting to offset the costs of acquiescing. The adversary must also believe Americas threat is credible and it will remain consistent in its demands and assurances. The cumulative factor transcends individual scenarios, affecting Americas reputation and influencing future adversaries to either resist or acquiesce. This study examines three cases of coercion, Somalia, Libya, and Syria, uncovering that during coercion, the US is not as menacing, credible, or consistent as it would like to believe.