Monday, September 14, 2015

Charles Finstrom
National Security Policy Blog Post
Parameters of Violence
Schelling ‘s (1966) Arms and Influence presents a stark depiction of the methods and effectiveness of state coercion.  While it may often be seen as a form of “dirty bargaining” (Schelling, 1996: 9), it is nevertheless a potent tool at a state’s disposal, one that has been a facet of diplomacy throughout recorded history.  What Schelling (1966) fails to address, however, is the variations in state willingness to employ this coercion.  Indeed, he seems to assume that all states engage in as much coercion as their capacities allow.  However, a brief scrutiny of international society shows that this is clearly inaccurate.  Some nations, such as Russia, appear to be far more aggressive with coercion, while others such as Switzerland or the Baltic states often do not exploit power at their disposal.  Thus, while all states have some capacity for coercion, they vary markedly in their willingness to engage in this behavior.

     The Utility of Coercion: Capacity and Will (US B1 bomber; Wikimedia Commons)
The extent of violence and/or the willingness to threaten it vary markedly between countries.  In effect, these are partially self-imposed limits, resulting in differing parameters of coercive behavior that states are willing to exploit.  As figure 1 depicts, most states are willing to engage in a baseline of coercion, such as sanctions.  Few, however, choose to employ the most brutal forms of coercion at their disposal, as shown by the outer rungs of the diagram.  The variations along these parameters of coercive behavior, as well as the relative ease with which states can legitimate them, are often a result of domestic structures.  While numerous cultural and historical factors influence each nation’s decision-making in this regard, it is also due to regime-type.  Schelling (1996) does not address this explicitly, though his recognition that coercion affects governments differently based upon their receptiveness to the public implies that they also vary in their ability to employ violence against others.  Autocratic leaders, for example, are generally less beholden to censure by their people than democracies.  It should therefore be easier for them to employ violence to coerce their opponents.  Within this category, personalist leaders should be particularly unrestrained in this behavior.  The greater domestic accountability of democracies, in contrast, makes using and justifying asymmetric violence more difficult.  Therefore, while Schelling (1996) has aptly examined the phenomenon of coercion, it is now important for future scholars to expand upon this work to better understand the varying willingness of states to employ these threats.

Works Cited
Schelling, Thomas C.  Arms and Influence.  London: Yale University Press, 1966.  Print.

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