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date: 26 February 2024

Coercive Diplomacy as Crisis Managementlocked

Coercive Diplomacy as Crisis Managementlocked

  • Peter Viggo JakobsenPeter Viggo JakobsenInstitute for Strategy, Royal Danish Defence College


In war-threatening crises, the contestants face a crucial dilemma: Should they yield to the opponent’s demands to avoid war or risk war to protect their interests? Coercive diplomacy is a holistic “stick-and-carrot” crisis management strategy devised to tackle this dilemma and enable policymakers to resolve crises by means of mutually acceptable compromises short of war. It is in focus here because it integrates the three principal strands of crisis management theory into a single strategy.

The first component is coercive. It involves threats to do harm (political, economic, or military) and action that would hurt the adversary in order to influence it to stop/undo its hostile activities. Hurting action may involve political, economic, and military measures, but actual use of force must be limited and serve signaling and influencing purposes only. Its purpose is to bring the opponent to the negotiating table, not to defeat it or render it incapable of continued resistance. The second component is conciliatory and accommodating. It involves the use of positive incentives for compliance with the coercer’s demands. Their purpose is to reduce the cost of compliance and thereby increase the prospects for finding a mutually acceptable solution to the crisis short of war. The third component is the use of assurances to convince the adversary that the coercer will keep three promises: (a) that it will stop hurting the adversary if it complies with the coercer’s demands, (b) that the promised compensation for compliance will be forthcoming, and finally, (c) that compliance will not result in new demands in the future.

This combination of coercion and accommodation situates coercive diplomacy in the middle of the crisis management continuum, which has winning at the one end and war avoidance at the other. It also sets coercive diplomacy apart from strategies relying solely on coercion, such as compellence and deterrence, or solely on accommodation and positive inducements, such as appeasement.

Coercive diplomacy is a hard-to-use, high-risk strategy with a low success rate—especially with respect to solving crises without any use of force. Success hinges on a favorable context, skillful diplomacy, and psychological factors beyond the coercer’s control. The many factors affecting its successful use and the holistic nature of the strategy involving coercion, positive inducements, and assurances have produced a rich but also fragmented and dichotomous literature, which has been marred by a number of theoretical, methodological, and definitional disputes. Since 2010, a new generation of scholars has taken promising steps to overcome some of these problems using sophisticated mixed-methods research designs. Significant progress can be made if scholars begin to use such designs to better understand how the interaction of coercion, positive inducements, and assurances affects the scope for resolving crises short of war.


  • History and Politics
  • World Politics

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