The Rise and Fall of U.S Coercive Diplomacy

Two major exercises of coercive diplomacy, deterrence and compellence were discussed in the class. These was said to be the regular tools of U.S foreign policy. Schelling (1966), as cited by Sperandei (2006) distinguished compellence as a threat intended to make an adversary do something (action) and deterrence as a threat intended to keep an adversary from starting something (inaction). Both of compellence and deterrence use threats, not to harm the adversary physically, but to affect his motivation.

We can see the U.S practice of deterrence and compellence in the history of international relations, Freedman (2004), as cited by Sperandei (2006), observed that U.S during Cold War conveyed two warnings to the Soviet Union: one aimed at stopping Soviet missile installation in Cuba (compellent) and the other aimed at stopping any additional missiles from passing through the U.S line of defense. Nevertheless there exists also confusion in the U.S practice of deterrence and compellence according to Byman and Waxman (2000) as cited by Sperandei (2006) in the US-Iraq confrontation during the first Persian Gulf Crisis, U.S threats that can be classified as deterrence and reactive compellence, such as “don’t invade Kuwait” or “withdraw from Kuwait”, overlapped considerably in practice.

Hence, can we measure the success of U.S coercive diplomacy with its deterrence and compellence policies? or it is falling down as U.S engaging more preemptive and preventive military action? Such as in Iraq and Afghanistan? Certainly the issuance of threats can never be a total strategy by itself. According to Freedman (2003), the conduct of strategic coercion may well reflect a preference for threatening rather than applying force, but should force be necessary, even for exemplary purposes, it might still have to be deployed in substantial amounts.

Generally, according to Sperandei (2006), deterrence considered successful when no force is used and a course of action is stopped before its pursuit is attempted. Compellence, instead, succeeds when a compellent threat is made and the attacker stops using his force. In the context of U.S, it was failed to succeeding both strategies in the First Gulf Crisis. Does it make the U.S coercive diplomacy failing? Not necessarily, as concluded by Sperandei (2006, 258), “coercive policies of deterrence as well as of compellence rely on the threat of future military force to influence adversarial decision makers and that the limited use of force may be required for compellence to work”.


Freedman, L, (2003), Strategic Coercion, in Strategic coercion: concepts and cases, edited by Lawrence Freedman, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sperandei, M, (2006), Bridging deterrence and compellence: an alternative approach to the study of coercive diplomacy, International Studies Review 8, 253-280. Retrieved on April, 23, 2010 from


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