Security Studies Program Seminar

Coercive Diplomacy: Theory and Practice

Peter Viggo Jakobsen, Ph.D.

September 27, 2006

 

Dr. Jakobsen began his talk by defining coercive diplomacy which in his view may involve use of air and sea power on a major scale. Everything short of brute force use of force to settle the dispute in question was considered as part of coercive diplomacy strategies. Here Dr. Jakobsen's definition of coercive diplomacy differed from the original definition formulated by Alexander George which only permits use of force on a small scale in order to demonstrate resolve.

He then proceeded my outlining his ideal policy made up of 4 success conditions that has proved necessary for coercive diplomacy success in most historical cases:

1) a credible threat of force to defeat the opponent or deny him his objectives quickly with little cost (escalation dominance).

2) a deadline for compliance.

3) an assurance to the adversary that compliance will not lead to more demands, and

4) an offer of carrots for compliance.

According to Dr. Jakobsen

•  Coercive diplomacy is almost certain to fail if the ideal policy is not implemented.

•  While implementation of the ideal policy is necessary in most cases, it is not sufficient - no guarantee of success!

•  Coercive diplomacy may still fail due to misperception, miscalculation or preference for fighting to preserve honour.

•  Ideal policy is designed to minimize risk of miscalculation and misperception, however.

•  The ideal policy was designed as a parsimonious, testable tool designed to predict whether CD is likely to work in a given crisis; or post hoc to determine whether failure can be attributed to misperception or irrationality. Since it focuses on the coercer and black boxes the opponent, it cannot be used to devise an effective strategy as this will require more information about the opponent.

Dr. Jakobsen applied the ideal policy framework to the cases of Kosovo (1998-99) and Afghanistan (2001).

The Kosovo case was broken down into four coercive diplomacy exchanges which ended as the framework predicted.

Kosovo

 

Demand

Adversary

Coercive strategy

Outcome

Round 1

June 1998

End violence, start negotiations, withdraw forces

Serbia

÷Ideal policy

Failure

Round 2

September October

1998

End violence, withdraw some forces, accept deployment of observer force

Serbia

+ Ideal policy

Temporary success

Round 3

February-March

1999

Give NATO access throughout Serbia ; withdraw from Kosovo, accept referendum on independence

Serbia

÷Ideal policy

Failure

Round 4

March-June 1999

End violence, withdraw from Kosovo, accept peace plan

Serbia

+ Ideal policy

Costly success

The Afghanistan case was analysed as three exchanges that also yielded the expected outcomes

Afghanistan

Demand

Adversary

Coercive strategy

Outcome

Round 1

1998-2001

Stop support and use of terrorism; hand over Osama bin Ladin

Taliban and Al Qaida

÷ Ideal policy

Failure

Round 2

September-October 2001

Stop support and use of terrorism; hand over Al Qaida leadership

Taliban and Al Qaida

÷ Ideal policy

Failure; escalation to limited force

Round 3

October 2001

Stop support and use of terrorism; hand over Al Qaida leadership

Taliban and Al Qaida

÷ Ideal policy

Failure; escalation to brute force

 

Dr Jakobsen ended his talk by reiterating what he saw as the advantages of his ideal policy framework:

•  It identifies what the coercer at a minimum must do to succeed

•  It can predict outcomes of coercive diplomacy attempts with a minimum of knowledge about the opponent

•  It can explain outcomes after the fact

•  It easy to understand and use for practitioners

•  It underlines the high-risk nature of the strategy that full-scale war is likely to be necessary in most cases to stop aggressors, terrorists and states seeking weapons of mass destruction (WMD)

Its main limitation is the deliberate black boxing of the adversaries which means that it cannot be used to devise real coercive diplomacy campaigns. Devising such campaigns require far more information about the adversary. The concept is conceived as a first cut tool to enable policy makers and analysts to predict whether coercive diplomacy is likely to succeed or not in a future confrontation. Post-hoc it can be used to help determine whether coercive diplomacy failures were caused by irrationality or misperception.

Dr Jakobsen offered the following predictions about future Western use of coercive diplomacy to counter aggression, terrorism and WMD proliferation:

Effective implementation of the ideal policy was regarded as the exception to the rule due to:

•  Lack of political will, and

•  Practical difficulties

Western policy makers were regarded as most likely to continue to rely heavily on air power and on local ground forces to minimize the risk of casualties.

 

Dr. Jakobsen is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Copenhagen. He is currently a visiting scholar at MIT Security Studies Program. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Aarhus in Denmark. His most recent article on coercive diplomacy will appear in Alan Collins (ed.) Contemporary Security Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press) scheduled for publication in December 2006.


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