Peace with strength : developing the conditions of coercive diplomacy




Ferguson, Daniel Max

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United States policymakers need viable crisis response options – other than war – when deterrence is not able to prevent aggression. This study examines one policy option in the space between deterrence and war: coercive diplomacy. Applied successfully, coercive diplomacy defuses emerging conflicts by persuading an aggressor to change or reverse their behavior. However, attempts at coercive diplomacy fail more often than they succeed, even when applied by global powers like the United States. I build on the work of scholars who have examined policy traits found within effective coercive diplomacy attempts. Alexander George first developed a set of conditions for coercive diplomacy – also described as ingredients or prerequisites – that, when present, increase the policy’s likelihood of success. A critical gap in the literature is a study that helps understand what leads to creating the conditions for coercive diplomacy – or what stands in the way of establishing those conditions.

The central research question for this study is what facilitates or inhibits U.S. policymakers from developing favorable conditions for coercive diplomacy? I examine historical cases from the Johnson, Reagan, and Clinton administrations where the United States attempted coercive diplomacy to reveal the messy realities of policymaking. I uncover the complicated relationships, impediments to action, and what subtle factors helped U.S. decision-makers develop policies to compel opponents to change behavior. This research helps establish how policymakers achieve the conditions of coercive diplomacy or what factors prevent them from attaining these benchmarks. The conclusion of this dissertation provides original insights about the eight conditions, both individually and how they interact with one another. Learning how the conditions interact is one of the novel and important contributions of my dissertation to the field of coercion. Understanding how the conditions interact also helps policymakers anticipate the dynamics or tensions between the different conditions. I share seven policy implications that this study reveals about future applications of coercive diplomacy. Lastly, I offer a series of initial questions that policymakers should ask before exercising coercive diplomacy.



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