The Logic of Positive Engagement by Miroslav Nincic. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. 224pp., £24.95, ISBN 978 0 8014 5006 8
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Political Studies Review © 2013 Political Studies Association
Political Studies Review
Volume 11, Issue 1, page 99, January 2013
How to Cite
Hall, I. (2013), The Logic of Positive Engagement by Miroslav Nincic. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2011. 224pp., £24.95, ISBN 978 0 8014 5006 8. Political Studies Review, 11: 99. doi: 10.1111/1478-9302.12000_41
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2013
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2013
Contrary to received wisdom, coercion rarely works in international relations. Much evidence suggests that sanctions and threats do not often succeed in persuading states to change their policies, despite persistent biases among analysts and policy makers in their favour. Indeed, even so-called ‘smart sanctions’ have a poor track record. So this book asks: do ‘positive inducements’ work better?
After exploring three historical cases (Libya, Cuba and Syria) and two contemporary ones (North Korea and Iran) Miroslav Nincic concludes that they might. He posits two different models for engagement, one in which the object is to secure discrete objectives by offering something in return – the ‘exchange’ model – and one in which the object is wider change in the target state – the ‘catalytic’ model – where a series of incentives is provided over time. Nincic argues that a shift from negative sanctions to positive inducements was instrumental in inducing Muammar Gaddafi to relinquish his weapons of mass destruction programmes. He notes that sanctions have done little to change the status quo in Cuba and makes a counterfactual case for inducements. And he suggests that a pragmatic approach, combining sticks and carrots, showed some promise in American dealings with Syria prior to the Arab Spring.
When it comes to North Korea and Iran, Nincic finds unstable and illegitimate regimes contrasted with societies offering promising openings for positive engagement. Negative sanctions, he thinks, generate considerable risks, including the collapse of the North Korean state and an Iranian step over the nuclear threshold. In both cases, Nincic argues that ‘utilitarian principles’ ought to trump a ‘morally-driven logic of punishment’ (p. 168).
This is a very welcome book and one that practitioners as well as theorists should read. If it has a fault, it lies in the case study selection. Nincic deserves praise for choosing hard cases of particularly recalcitrant regimes that are difficult to engage. But including others – the Soviet Union post-1989, for example, or Serbia, which he addresses only briefly (pp. 177–8), or perhaps even China – might have given a fuller view of the conditions and triggers for success. Moreover, it would likely show that even the US government is not as ‘path-dependent’ and obsessed with negative sanctions as Nincic suggests, and that positive engagement is actually much more widely used in practice than he thinks.