Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Thomas A. Breslin

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Rebecca Friedman

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Harry D. Gould

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Felix E. Martin

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Coercive diploamcy, credibility, U.S. foreign policy

Date of Defense



In coercive diplomacy, states employ the threat of force to get an opponent to change its behavior. A common belief is that strong military powers, such as the United States, make persuasive threats due to their capability to inflict punishment in the case of noncompliance. However, the record shows that the failure of asymmetric coercion has been a persistent feature of international crises. This finding inspires the core question of this dissertation: Why do weak states resist coercive threats from a militarily superior state, and under what conditions do weak states concede?

This dissertation addresses the question by proposing the Coercive Diplomacy (CD) Triangle, a model of coercive diplomacy in asymmetric military crisis. At the core of this model are three conditions: Credible threats, credible assurances, and the international strategic environment favoring the coercer. This model predicts that in asymmetric interstate crisis, the target will acquiesce to the coercer’s demands when all three conditions are present. To test the explanatory power of this model, this dissertation examines U.S. coercive strategies during the Bosnian War (1992-95) and during the Kosovo Crisis (1998-99). The dissertation employs a process tracing, structured, focused comparison, and a modified form of the Boolean truth table to analyze how these three conditions influence the outcome of coercive diplomacy in three episodes of U.S. coercion in the Bosnian War and five episodes of U.S. coercion during the Kosovo War.

The evidence shows, as predicted by the CD Triangle, that credible threats, credible assurances, and the international environment favoring the coercer are present when coercive diplomacy succeeded. The evidence also shows that coercion in asymmetric interstate crises often fails even if the threats are credible (“believable”) and even if the international environment favors the coercer because the coercer underestimates the target’s “need” for assurances that the coercer’s demands are limited and true to those stated by the coercer. Consequently, to improve the effectiveness of coercive diplomacy in asymmetric interstate crises, a coercer should combine threats with assurances that the target will not be harmed if the target complies with the demands.






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