Military Coercion and US Foreign Policy: The Use of Force Short of War

June 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Sisson, M. (Govini & Stimson Center); Siebens, J. (Stimson Center)

Date: 7 July 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Melanie Sisson (Vice President of Analysis, Govini & Non-resident Senior Fellow, Stimson Center) and Mr. James Siebens (Fellow, Defense Strategy and Planning Program, Stimson Center) as a part of its SMA General Speaker Series.

The purpose of the Stimson Center’s research was to give recommendations on how the USG can better use its armed forces to achieve geopolitical objectives without warfighting. The team argues that while US Armed Forces is meant to fight wars, it can also be used as a coercive political force. Two coercive actions given as examples that the US military can undertake are a) simply increasing its physical presence overseas and b) participating in joint military exercises with allies. Both these actions can dissuade US adversaries’ from acting aggressively and improve political alliances with allies. Dr. Sisson emphasized that military coercion, including military posturing, is not an act of military force. Instead, coercion should be considered a type of communication that should always be framed in a way that is more likely to be received and believed by the Armed Forces’ target audience.

The US Armed Forces historical use of coercion shows that even though it is designed to avoid open conflict, coercion is still a risky operation which can place US operators at risk and lead to conflict escalation. According to their data, coercive activity was most effective in avoiding open conflict and to maintain or return to the territorial status quo following a land dispute. The presenters reinforced that when the US Armed Forces engage in coercion, they must demand clarity in bilateral messaging, understand the cost imposition on all parties involved, and understand the cost acceptance of its adversaries and allies relating to the purposed coercive action. Ultimately, this will require a whole of society (WOS) approach, which relies on prioritization of objectives, intelligence gathering, situational awareness, and effective operational planning.

Speaker Session Recording

Our speakers requested that we not record this session.

Briefing Materials


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