Monday, September 14, 2015

Charles Finstrom
National Security Policy Blog Post Week 3

Credible Threats and the Willingness to Employ Coercive Diplomacy
                Schelling’s (1996) discussion on coercive diplomacy in Armsand Influence raises an intriguing paradox.  While it is vital for the state to keep some level of coercion in reserve to make threats (Schelling, 1996: 173, 172), they must also be willing to employ it.  Otherwise, the credibility and effectiveness of threats decline, regardless of how much “unspent capacity for damage [is] kept in reserve” (Schelling, 1996: 172).  However, while Schelling (1966) does not examine this, few to no states today appear willing to engage in the wholesale slaughter that characterized previous conflicts, particularly against a beaten foe.  To what extent then, should states actually employ the brutal violence they threaten if they are limited in the extent they can bring to bear?

                          File:Firing M1A1 tank in Djibouti.jpg
                 US Capacity for Coercion: The M1 Abrams Tank (Wikimedia Commons)
The USA currently struggles with this phenomenon, particularly after its highly visible backing away from bombing  Syria after Assad’s blatant crossing of the ‘Red Line’ of using chemical weapons against Syria’s own people.  A threat is only effective if it is credible.  At times, an opponent may call the state’s bluff.  In response, the state must then decide if it is truly willing to carry out its threatened “power to hurt” (Schelling, 1996: 3).  Yet are developed nations truly as willing as other regimes to deliberately hurt a recalcitrant state?  There is also a question of the limits of western coercion during the conflict itself, a self-imposed limitation that other actors may be less inclined to respect and can exploit.  In such situations it is perhaps better to not rely on coercive threats at all, at least so far making it the primary bargaining chip, since obstinate enemies know they must only endure a certain level of violence above which they are confident the US and other developed nations will not exceed.  This has also plagued US efforts in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  The insurgents know that they must only endure pain up to a point, past which the US will be too concerned with preventing collateral damage.  This is not to label this is a policy failure.  Instead, it simply denotes that the United States is unwilling to employ the brutality of a Genghis Khan or a Tamerlane and as a result will have limits on the scope and effectiveness of the violence it is willing to employ because its enemies also know that these limits exist.

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

Thiessen, Marc A.  “Obama’s Weakness Emboldens Putin.”  The Washington Post.   3 March 2014.  Web. 2015.  13 Sept. 2015.

No comments: