Thursday, May 13, 2021

Deterrence, Brute Force and Coercion

In Deterrence in Retreat: How the Cold War’s Core Principle Fell Out of Fashion, the author T. Negeen Pegahi discusses how the U.S. in the past has used brute force and or coercion to prevent certain countries from building nuclear weapons by placing economic sanctions. An example of this country would be Iran. The country’s nuclear history goes all the way back to the 70s, when Iran began its first nuclear program. The United States has placed multiple sanctions against Iran in the past, the first time being the hostage crisis in 1979 prior to the Iranian Revolution when radical students invaded and seized the United States embassy in Tehran. In relation to nuclear weapons, in 2007 the United States including other members of the United States Security Council placed sanctions on Iran in order to stop its uranium enrichment activities by freezing their assets and banning arm sales.

In the past U.S. has used brute force and coercion to its advantages when it comes to influencing against certain choices. The term Deterrence is defined by Pegahi as “discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of consequences” and the U.S. has used this many times when it comes to foreign policy and this is where brute force and coercion comes in. According to Pegahi, outside of using deterrence to achieve its goals which has its strengths and weakness, the United States has other ways to reaching its objectives such as brute force and coercion. Brute force focuses on capabilities, it is “trying to build up one’s own and/or degrade those of others in order to make others less able to harm U.S. interests'' and an example of brute force according to Pegahi would be the US placing economic sanctions on Iran if the goal was to reduce their ability to build more nuclear weapons. Hence, limiting Iran’s access to certain resources if they know these materials would help them achieve objectives that the United States does not support.

As for coercion, it focuses more on choices. It is “trying to influence others’ decision making in order to make them less likely to try to harm U.S interests in the first place”. In Coercion there are two components to this term, Deterrence through convincing maintain a particular behavior or decision and compellence through convincing to change said behavior or decision. An example of compellence would be as mentioned earlier, the U.S. threatening Tehran with sanctions in the past in order to make Iranian leaders do whatever Washington said.

But according to Pegahi, the deterrence method has declined over the years and some of the reasons may include the U.S. no longer wanting to keep the status quo and relaxing that though these deterrence methods may be successful, they cannot fulfill some of the U.S. objectives. The other reasons why the deterrence is on a decline specifically coercion is because the state or country threatening coercion should resist acting on a threat when the person being threatened decides to comply, but the U.S. has failed to do this multiple times over the years and example of this would include former US President Donald Trump “revoking the Iran nuclear deal despite Tehran complying the terms given to them”. Failure to hold the end of bargains causes distrust and this makes it harder for the US to convince other states in the future.

Having multiple sanctions against them despite compliance would be a big reason why Iran would want global watchdog, the IAEA to reduce monitoring their nuclear program. In 2015 former US President Donald Trump said the 2015 JCPOA deal was too generous and pulled out of the deal in 2018 and ever since then Iran has since reduced its commitments to the agreements. According to the current supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei has stated that  “Iran is not after nuclear weapons, but its nuclear enrichment will not be limited to 20% either” and the country has since made efforts to enrich their uranium which will go against the JCPOA agreement.

 By Shalom Simon-Okube


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