7.4.7 The Security Impact of International Coercion

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/747.htm)

International political leadership can be exerted by persuasion, using only the force of argument, but when it uses economic and military pressure it becomes what this book describes as a ‘coercive foreign policy’ (  In addition to the political disadvantages of such a policy, there is a security impact:

  • Bullies are never popular, and unpopularity is costly. A habit of coercive behaviour encourages other countries to raise their own defences and, following the line that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, it motivates them to help others to resist coercion; for example Hugo Chávez, the President of Venezuela, saw it as being in his interests to help any country which opposed America – including Cuba and Iran, for example.[1]
  • The use of coercion results in adverse propaganda (7.4.3), which increases the military threat.
  • The use of military force, by one country against another, is never like a cowboy film where the good guy shoots the bad guy and those on the good side live happily ever after. Imposed solutions are unstable (7.4.5), so problems will resurface.
  • It is risky to try to bring about political change in another country. Revolution, or very radical change, rarely brings about the intended political consequences (6.2.5) and the creation of a power vacuum gives an opportunity for tensions within the country to erupt into civil war – aided by terrorist organisations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, as was the case in both Iraq and Libya.
  • Local people may not understand the political thinking of intervention by a foreign country, even if it is nominally for their benefit.[2] Their reaction towards any interference is likely to be hostile, resulting in armed resistance (
  • Any form of coercion can result in retaliation. Palestinians have resorted to Self-Protection, in response to Israeli building of settlements on the West Bank (7.4.4), with a campaign of terrorism – which is a tempting choice for those who are militarily weak.  The building of settlements has thus had the net effect of worsening Israel’s security situation.  A UN Resolution to prevent Israeli expansionism would probably be in the latter’s best interests, since its internal politics sometimes prevent it from taking the wisest course.

Overall, a country will have fewer friends, and will find it harder to protect itself, if it uses coercion – although there are still those who advocate it.[3]

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014


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[1] On 7 January 2012, Reuters published an article entitled Factbox: Venezuela’s ties with Iran, which described the ties between the two countries:

“Both fierce anti-U.S.  ideologues, Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have become close political and commercial allies in recent years, to the annoyance of Washington.”

This article was available in May 2018 at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-iran-idUSTRE8060DO20120107.

Hugo Chávez has also had close ties with Cuba: on 8 November 2010 the website Venezuelanalysis.com published an article entitled Cuba and Venezuela Commemorate 10th Anniversary of Bilateral Cooperation, which mentioned the two countries as forming “an anti-imperialist alliance”; this was available in May 2018 at http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5772.

[2] Steve Chapman wrote an article entitled Burned in Afghanistan, with the subtitle Is there any point in staying?, which was published in the Chicago Tribune on 1 March 2012.  He made several powerful points, including these:

“Many if not most Afghans have never heard of the 9/11 attacks.  Even the deputy chairman of the government’s High Peace Council told The Wall Street Journal he doesn’t believe al-Qaida destroyed the World Trade Center.

So what can we expect ordinary people to think when they see the country overrun with armed foreigners who sometimes kill and injure innocent civilians? Or when they hear that those infidels are burning Qurans?”

This article was available in May 2018 at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-01/news/ct-oped-0301-chapman-20120301_1_afghan-troops-afghan-security-forces-coalition-military-bases.

[3] A 2016 book by Eliot A Cohen was entitled The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force.  It was reviewed on 15 December 2016 by John Hillen in an article entitled The Return of Hard Power which was available in May 2018 at https://warontherocks.com/2016/12/the-return-of-hard-power/.  Cohen was quoted as saying “America needs a substantially larger military than the one it now has.”