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Pushing the Limits of Military Coercion Theory

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Abstract

The centrality of military coercion in contemporary Western crisis and conflict management constitutes a major policy problem because the United States and its allies are poor at translating their overwhelming military superiority into adversary compliance. The standard explanation provided by coercion theorists is that coercion is hard and that miscalculation, misperception, or practical problems can defeat even a perfectly executed strategy. What they ignore is that the problem also stems from the limits of coercion theory, which has left us with an unnecessarily poor understanding of how military coercion works and how the practical problems involved could be addressed. Our understanding of military coercion would be increased markedly if only coercion theorists would make a greater efforts to do three things, namely (1) provide clear operational definitions of key concepts and variables, (2) engage in systematic and rigorous empirical analysis of generally accepted propositions, and (3) seek to provide solutions to the many policy problems that coercion theorists have identified to date. These simple steps would enhance the degree of cumulativity within the field, provide the principal theoretical propositions with a firmer empirical foundation and make military coercion theory more useful for policy makers.

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