Concepts of Influence Beyond Punishment and Denial: A Combined Effect Analysis of China, Russia, and Iran

August 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Brig Gen (Ret) Thomas Drohan (Professor Emeritus of Military and Strategic Studies, U.S. Air Force Academy; Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies)

Date: 29 August 2023

Speaker Series Summary

Authoritarian states more frequently use a whole-of-society approach to deterrence and coercion activities than democratic states. Because of many societal and geopolitical changes that have occurred since modern deterrence concepts were founded, there is a need for examining deterrence and coercion through new concepts of influence (COI). Dr. Drohan argued that despite authoritarian countries’ more frequent use of COI to achieve their geopolitical objectives and interests, democratic states should be able to use COI more effectively. Concepts of influence as discussed in the presentation are an expansion of previous Cold War Era concepts of coercion theory that focused heavily on deterrence by denial and punishment. Dr. Drohan’s presentation was based off his recently published book, Combined Effect Strategy and Influence: How Democracies Can Defeat Authoritarians, (NY: Praeger Security International, Bloomsbury Academic, 2023). His expansion of the definitions and language associated with deterrence and COI helped illustrate how interconnected and complex coercion activities are in the current modern and multi-polar world.

There were three main dimensions associated with COI: 1) cooperative or confrontational, 2) physical or psychological, and 3) preventive or causative. The ends, ways, and means for achieving the desired outcome using COI were discussed during the presentation. Dr. Drohan also described several ongoing patterns of COI, using China, Russia, and Iran as examples. For example, all three countries are more likely to use psychological means for achieving their ends, rather than physical brute force. Russia frequently uses information to coerce an actor, compelling them to commit or induce Russia’s desired outcome. China also uses information; however, it uses more societal and social levers to achieve its desired ends than Russia or Iran. Iran also uses information and social levers to achieve its goals, but it uses its religious authority to camouflage much of its compellence as more benign persuasion.  

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials:

Dr. Drohan introduced the combined-effect strategy and influence model in a 19 April 2023 SMA Speaker Session.


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