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The Art of Military Coercion

The Art of Military Coercion: Why the West's Military Superiority Scarcely Matters

Rob de Wijk
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  • Book Info
    The Art of Military Coercion
    Book Description:

    The United States spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, and Western nations in general spend far more than developing nations around the globe. Yet when Western nations have found themselves in conflicts in recent decades, their military performance has been mixed at best. In this fully updated new edition ofThe Art of Military Coercion, Rob de Wijk explains this discrepancy through a theory on the use of force. He argues that the key is a failure to use force decisively and to understand properly the dynamics of conflict and balance, means and ends. Without that ability, even a superiority of dollars, numbers, and weaponry will not necessarily translate to victory.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1941-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction (Second and Revised Edition)
    (pp. 9-10)

    The first edition of this book was published when the lessons learned from the stabilization missions in Afghanistan and Iraq were debated and codified in new doctrinal publications. The US publication,Field Manual 3-24–the “Petraeus manual”–was published in 2006 and was widely read by the general public. This reflected broad public interest in the issue of the use of military power in complex contingencies. The new doctrine marked a US shift from enemy-centric counterinsurgency (COIN) to population-centric COIN.

    The new doctrinal publications also introduced new concepts such as stabilization and reconstruction. Stabilization, guided by COIN, was the military...

  2. Introduction (First Edition)
    (pp. 11-12)

    The idea for this book emerged in 1999, during the war on Kosovo. I was struck by NATO’s prediction that the humanitarian tragedy would be over within days. Anyone with a little knowledge about the history of military interventions could have known that these predictions would be proven wrong. Day after day I reported on Operation Allied Force for Dutch television. It provided me with an opportunity to test my assumptions regarding the dynamics of coercion. During Operation Enduring Freedom, the intervention in Afghanistan (2001), Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the Second Gulf War (March through May 2003) I was again...

  3. Introduction: Understanding Coercion
    (pp. 13-28)

    Since the end of the Cold War, liberal democracies have conducted military interventions on numerous occasions, and with mixed results. During the first half of the 1990s, the military intervention designed to drive out Iraq from Kuwait was an unparalleled success, but Mogadishu and Srebrenica have become symbols of failed attempts to bring peace to war-torn countries and to alleviate human suffering. During the second half of the 1990s, Operation Allied Force, NATO’s war on Kosovo in 1999, was unsuccessful. The first humanitarian war, as the British Prime Minister Tony Blair called it, took 78 days. During the air campaign,...

  4. Part 1 Political Culture:: Why the West Coerces

    • 1 A Western Civilization of Warriors?
      (pp. 31-64)

      In this chapter, I will argue that the combination of power politics with moral and ideological motivations is typical of Western political culture. Although wars have become obsolete among liberal democracies, modern liberal democracies consider the use of force as an essential foreign policy instrument. During the Cold War, the emphasis was on fighting communism as an opposing ideology that simply did not harmonize with Western values. As a consequence, interventions in the Third World were seen as an ideological struggle between Communists and anti-Communists. After the end of the Cold War, a new debate emerged concerning militant Islam, which...

    • 2 Liberal Democracies and Interventions
      (pp. 65-98)

      Consider the following hypothetical example. After decades of civil war, it has become clear that the United Kingdom cannot cope with the situation in Northern Ireland. The international community wonders how many more innocent Catholic and Protestant civilians must die. After many failed attempts to put pressure on the British government to find a solution, China takes the initiative for a humanitarian intervention. The Chinese leadership tries to seek support within the Security Council, but efforts to obtain a mandate are vetoed. However, all members, except for the US and of course the United Kingdom, agree that the atrocities must...

    • 3 The Strategic Efficacy of Power Instruments
      (pp. 99-148)

      Although Americans and Europeans differ about why, how, and when coercion is legitimate, it will remain an essential element of liberal democracies’ foreign policy. But, as has been argued before, the record of success is mixed. Failed interventions or partially successful efforts to coerce could undermine the credibility of foreign policy. As interventions usually provoke negative reactions in other countries, failed attempts to coerce an adversary could also jeopardize the stability of international relations. Especially interventions carried out solely for moral and ethical reasons are not always understood in other cultures, and therefore pose considerable challenges. To be successful, coercion...

  5. Part 2 Strategic Culture:: How the West Coerces

    • 4 The Evolution of Modern Military Doctrine
      (pp. 151-196)

      Geography, history, and technology have determined the way in which modern Western armed forces fight. Norman Davies wrote that the inhabitants of the Great European Plain, which stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals, could find no natural limits to the territory they chose to occupy. The peoples who settled on the plain had to fight for it. They had to learn the art of systematic military organization, so it comes as no surprise that the plain nourished the greatest military powers in Europe’s history: France, Prussia, and Russia.¹

      The modern system of states, and the characteristics of Western civilization,...

    • 5 Premodern Challenges and the Modern and Postmodern World
      (pp. 197-230)

      In the previous chapter I argued that the liberal democracies’ armed forces were trained and equipped for traditional interstate wars in Europe. The main preoccupation was relatively static defenses with large units, that is, divisions and army corps. I concluded that modern armed forces need full-spectrum capabilities to carry out their missions successfully. The key question therefore is what this spectrum looks like. This chapter offers a closer look at the security challenges which shape capabilities and define how coercive strategies should be executed with military means. I will argue that global war is unlikely, and that the number of...

    • 6 Dealing with Complex Security Challenges
      (pp. 231-296)

      In chapter 3, I argued that coercive strategies can only be effective if the coercer is willing to use force. And if force is used, it must be done effectively. Due to Western superiority in combat power, adversaries have no other choice than to use the “great equalizer” to thwart this superiority: unconventional and asymmetrical strategies of countercoercion. If this is done in a smart way, this can even nullify the West’s might. In the previous chapter I concluded that the armed forces of liberal democracies could be deployed in distant parts of the world. They must not only be...

    • 7 The Art of Military Coercion
      (pp. 297-318)

      A good strategy is a prerequisite for successful coercion. But tactical challenges increasingly jeopardize success at the strategic level, while preconditions at the strategic level jeopardize execution of operations at the tactical level. The close link between the technical, tactical, and strategic levels of war is characteristic of contemporary coercion. The explanation is that unconventional warfare and asymmetry are the most likely options for the adversary. As Western military power is unmatched, opponents find that unconventional warfare and asymmetry are the great equalizers. Unconventional warfare is a series of small-scale, sometimes isolated tactical engagements to achieve strategic objectives. Hit-and-run tactics...