Coercion and compellance: Systemic and contextual constraints

Date of Completion

January 2009


Political Science, General




This dissertation argues that the context in which a coercive relationship occurs has a profound impact on the process itself. Specifically, that polarity will structure a state's ability to interpret key variables necessary for success. The most relevant of these is the ability to understand the target's interests and capabilities, as this sets the intensity of the external threat facing the sender. The external threat determines how cohesive a state can become and likelihood it will be able to project the clear, consistent demand and potent ultimatum needed for success. Ultimately, a system's polarity and its defining characteristics help to provide a more complete understanding of when coercion can be used as an appropriate tool of great power politics. ^ This dissertation diverts from an existing literature that has concentrated on how the demand is articulated and understood at an individual level. Instead, the argument here is that the demand is the end result of a larger process structured by conditions at the systemic level. Clarity, consistency, and potency are the result of whether a fragmented state can coalesce around policy and project such a demand to the target. Thus, the state is not a unified, rational actor, but one that is constantly in flux and dependent on the conditions of polarity. When polarity heightens the perception of the external threat the state will become more unitary, and when it does not, polarity will actually allow for greater domestic level influence in determining the outcome.^ Methodologically, this dissertation lays out a causal progression and then tests that progression against three cases: U.S./Japan prior to World War II (1938-1941), The Cuban Missile Crisis, and U.S./Iraq 1988-1991. If perceptions, calculations, and policy choices fit, then it is possible to conclude that indeed there is plausibility to the arguments. Equally significant is that if they do not meet expectations and unforeseen outcomes do occur, then this process tracing will allow for the researcher to determine the point of error and reformulations can be made. Either way, this dissertation will create a more complete understanding of coercion and be a valuable addition to the literature.^