Wednesday 05 February 2020
Coercive diplomacy is one of the strategies used to achieve foreign policy objectives and is one of the best soft alternatives to resolve international conflicts. It is the most efficient means of employing instruments of national power to confront the adversary without violence. It has been increasingly implemented in recent times, particularly with the escalation of conflicts in the region and the growing influence of rogue states coupled with the superpowers' averse of using the hard power to avoid costly, long-term, and complicated wars such as the war in Afghanistan.
It is critical for theorists and politics practitioners to have a deep understanding of the complex relationship between implementing coercive diplomacy on the one hand and its success, on the other hand, i.e. politics must not be fired from a bore of a military rifle". Although, it is a central tool for managing international crises, coercive diplomacy's success is in fact minimal. A shred of evidence on this assumption is one of the academic research suggesting that western countries have succeeded in implementing this strategy in only 5 out of 37 cases during the period (1990-2005). To ensure that the frequent failure in politics will not cause frustration for many people working in the field of politics and to eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding in this regard, this article sheds light on the concept of coercive diplomacy highlighting the most important interactive relationships through answering the following questions: What is coercive diplomacy? What factors increase its chance of success? Why is it difficult to apply it to resolving international conflicts?
What is Coercive Diplomacy?
Coercive diplomacy, forceful persuasion, or strategic coercion is defined as a negotiation strategy implemented through the threat of using force to compel an adversary to change its policy or to do a certain course of action. In this case, the use of military force is avoided or can be used in a very limited or warning manner to let the adversary understand the lesson delivered and to increase the belief in the ability of the coercing state to inflict harm. Moreover, the use of force in itself is an indication of the failure of coercive diplomacy, as war is the last resort to achieve goals because it is a costly means and has no guarantees of achieving success. In addition to the military threat, coercive diplomacy includes several other non-combat means including economic sanctions, political isolation, and cyber-attack, supporting the opposition forces, and launching counter-media campaigns. The purpose of these measures is to place decision-makers of the coerced state under maximum pressure to change their policies and to comply with the demands of the coercing state.
The concept of coercive diplomacy has been extensively reviewed and applied in crisis management during the cold war in an attempt to avoid a super-powers nuclear war that neither spares anyone nor leaves anything behind.
The coercion strategy includes two main concepts, which are "deterrence" and "coercion", where deterrence aims at persuading the enemy not to take a certain course of action because it incurs damages and harm that exceed the expected gains by far. Consequently, the enemy becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming subject to retaliation and seeks to maintain the status quo unchanged. Compellence, on the other hand, is a strategy in which the adversary state is pushed to change its policy by either refraining from implementing an already-taken course of action or doing an already rejected courser course of action. This is why the implementation of the coercion strategy is extremely difficult, as it requires a clear change in the attitude of the adversary political leadership, which could subject it to losing its face.
Pillars of an Effective Coercive Diplomacy
Several IR studies indicate that there are same conditions shared in all cases of successful coercive diplomacy. These conditions are 1. The threat against the coerced state should be eminent, 2. The coercing state should be credibly capable of applying the threat and using force and violence against the coerced state. The coerced state must be fully aware of this capability. 3. The coercing state's call or demand should be rational and achievable by the leadership of the coerced state. 4. The tools of threat (stick) and the tools of exhortation (carrot) should be well balanced to ensure that the coerced state would assess the situation based on the win-or-lose logic and the necessities for political survival and national interests. This will lead the coerced state to accept the call or claim to avoid any woes associated with rejecting the claim or call. This is the critical condition that must be met since political leaders abhor being embarrassingly viewed or looked at as fragile or submissive before foreign dictations since it opens the gates for impeachments of disloyalty and weakening the national pride. Moreover, rejecting humiliation is an innate human trait. Therefore, leaders should not be forced to do what they cannot really accomplish by being placed on the horns of a dilemma and sandwiched between Scylla and Charybdis and ask them either to surrender to the oppressing political coercion or to accept the torturing woes of wars. For example, it was in vain when the U.S. President George W. Bush warned Saddam Hussein and his son 48 hours before the invasion of Iraq to step down from power in exchange for sparing Iraq the woes of war. These efforts were in vain because it was viewed as political blackmail or "political thuggery" rather than as diplomacy of coercion since this action discredits the dignity of the state. This action also did not take into account Saddam's traits of authoritarianism, stubbornness, and his centralized decision-making process. Furthermore, this action also did not take into consideration the historical record of the Iraqi leaders who were badly slain after being accused of treachery and high treason upon trying to flee Iraq shortly when they realized that was on the verge of being toppled down.
Why Achieving a Successful Coercion Diplomacy is Difficult in International Relations?
Implementing coercion is not an easy job since this strategy is characterized by having contradictory requirements. For example, it requires intimidation by putting as much pressure as possible on decision-makers of the coerced state on one hand. On the other hand, it requires providing more carrots to persuade the adversary's decision-maker of the feasibility of accepting the demands of the coercing state. It is a combination of both intimidation and pacifying at the same time. Therefore, a psychological process requires an analysis of the personal traits and the political aims of the coerced state's political leader, and the perceptions that could be illogical as well as the consequences associated with the miscalculation in the decision-making process.
In this context, the role of intelligence and psychology experts is prominent in analyzing the thoughts, psychology and the weaknesses of the coerced leader as well as the political pressures imposed on him to predict his behavior and decisions. Therefore, the most successful coercive diplomacy is the one in which the crisis is highlighted as a non-zero equation. Based on this equation, a group of incentives and sanctions can be forged. Moreover, such sanctions and incentives should be coherent with the domestic context of the coerced state as well as the intellectual motives, weaknesses, and the psychological will of its decision-makers. This will ensure that when the adversary decision-maker succumbs and accepts the demands, it will be by no means interpreted as a flagrant personal humiliation or as a blatant provocative action against the sovereignty or the people's dignity of the coerced state. This article explores two study cases to illustrate the above.
Gaddafi Abandons the Nuclear Program
The United States succeed in 2003 in convincing the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to refrain from developing WMD. Although it was associated with several contradictions, this case has become an exemplary case study about the successful coercive diplomacy in the IR realm. It was an outcome of U.S.-Libyan negotiations supported by third parties that lasted for several years. The United States exerted direct and explicit pressure on the Gaddafi regime through economic sanctions, political isolation, and the settlement of the Lockerbie case by paying huge compensation to the families of the victims and prosecuting the perpetrators. Libya accepted to enter the negotiation process after the U.S. administration has clearly confirmed that its intention is to change the Libyan politics to enable the Libyan regime to join the international community instead of being toppled. During that period, the Libyan government adopted pragmatism and the negotiators dealt with the regime with a great deal of political courtesy. Confidence was gradually established between the two parties by exchanging security information in an attempt to thaw the animosity that has been accumulated for decades. The two parties struggled to ease the political ambiance and to eliminate tension using courtesy. Of these courteous negotiations is that in 2002 George W. Bush administration avoided including Libya in the Axis of Evil List despite Gadhafi's unscrupulous activity of supporting armed groups and his antagonistic declarations against the U.S. foreign policy in the region. Out of this internationally congested atmosphere following the 9/11 attacks, which could not tolerably contain the terrorism-sponsoring states, emerged such efforts to reassure the Libyan leader to prevent his suspicion from pushing him to take a risky adventure. In short, the U.S. diplomacy has brought Gaddafi to the bottom line: the unquestionable belief that the nuclear program will not achieve influence and prestige, and will not protect his regime, but will bring occupation and devastation to Libya just like what the United States did in Iraq. Therefore, from a political survival point of view, the circumstances at that time which were focused on naturalizing the relations with the United States and rehabilitating the Gaddafi's political system to let it join the international community with ease. Therefore, it was not uncommon to see the official consent of Gaddafi on abandoning Libya's nuclear program five days after capturing Saddam Hussein in an underground hole.
North Korea: Decades of a Failing Coercive Diplomacy
Why did the United States succeed in Libya at the time the series of failing coercive diplomacy continued in North Korea? Negotiations between the two sides began during the Administration of Bill Clinton in 1994, which resulted in the signing of an agreement under which the North Korean capital Pyongyang freezes its nuclear program in exchange for providing it with a western advanced peaceful nuclear technology. The coercive diplomacy succeeded since it met the aforementioned effective conditions including the "stick and carrot" policy, which was applicable to the situation in Pyongyang, The U.S. nuclear weapons have been withdrawn from South Korea, the joint exercises between the United States and South Korea had been suspended to reassure the North Korean regime. In turn, the U.S. military protection to its ally South Korea had been assured. Thus, the policy of the "soft word paired with a killing bullet' had succeeded in peacefully convincing North Korea. However, Pyongyang's ballistic missile tests in 1998 had led to a thorough review of the agreement and a renegotiation process that extended to the George W. Bush administration. During that time, the neo-conservatives followed a tough and aggressive approach and adopted hostile and threatening rhetoric that alluded to a North Korean regime change. The neoconservatives neglected the coercive diplomacy following their inclusion of North Korea to the Axis of Evil List. During the sabre-rattling era against Iraq, the North Korean regime withdrew from the NPT in January 2002 and conducted the first nuclear bomb test in 2006 thereby achieving nuclear deterrence.
As for the current western efforts to coerce North Korea to disarm its WMD, it cannot be termed as a constricted coercive diplomacy since the negotiations between the parties were fluctuating. In one situation, President Trump threatened to punish Pyongyang with "fire and fury the world have never seen before ". In another situation, the two sides met without making any progress because they differ on the meaning of the term "Denuclearization."
Moreover, the U.S. malicious mischievousness in crafting international crises by conducting nuclear tests, launching ballistic missiles, and threatening neighbors have become a very useful political tool for Pyongyang since it diverts the public's attention away from the tyranny and failure of the current regime. These tools can use international crises as a means of blackmailing the West with foreign aids to prevent a regime's failure, which could threaten world stability and peace. However, any rational government will not disarm its nuclear weapons and commit suicide, especially after seeing how the West and their allies have launched their weapons against Gaddafi during 'Arab Spring' era and right after he clearly abandoned his nuclear ambition and his people revolted and toppled him where he became an easy prey up for the grabs of the superpowers.