A multiannual and multidisciplinary programme
on the conditions for effective coercion

The Programme provides a unique venue to establish a vibrant network of scholars and experts at a time when cross-disciplinary and cross-domain research into the conditions for effective coercion is increasingly called for. The goal is to further develop scholarly understanding of coercive statecraft through rigorous conceptual and empirical investigation and reinvigorate academic scholarship through publications in academic journals.

Each year a Symposium will be held in a different European city. The Symposium will bring together a select group of appr. 20 key coercive statecraft academics including political scientists, strategic studies scholars, political economists, and historians to systematically investigate the ways in which states leverage the use of force – and the threat thereof – as a tool of statecraft, across both military and non-military domains.

This year’s Symposium will take place at the premises of the European University Institute in Florence, Italy on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 October, 2023. This page provides a short description of the Programme’s background and content and the Symposium’s Agenda. 

In cooperation with the Robert Schuman Centre at the European University Institute.

Background

Coercive statecraft refers to the threat or use of force in order to get the target of coercion to comply with a set of demands. Throughout history, states have used a variety of coercive strategies to compel both adversaries and allies. These strategies include the threat of use of force for the purpose of coercing adversaries or allies, the actual use of military force to achieve political objectives, the covert use of force as a tool of statecraft, as well as the deployment of an assortment of non-military measures. State coercion thus encompasses military, political, economic, diplomatic, and – these days also – cyber measures. 

From Gunboat Diplomacy to Digital Control

 Coercion has evolved, adapting to opportunities and limitations afforded by the Age.

Regional Variation and Multidomain Tactics

 Interstate coercion has been on the uptick since the 2010s yet with remarkable regional variation.

  • From Gunboat Diplomacy to Digital Control
The modalities through which states coerce have varied greatly across time and space shaped not just by the available instruments but also by prevailing norms of interstate behaviour. Gunboat diplomacy was part and parcel of the statecraft of Western seafaring states since the late Middle Ages, if not earlier. Its use became circumscribed by international law in the aftermath of the Second World War, diminishing although certainly not eliminating its salience as a tool of coercion. Coercion has thus evolved adapting to opportunities and limitations afforded by the Age. State-sanctioned privateering to intercept shipping of silver from the Americas to Europe, for instance, was a common practice in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Attempts to control sea lines of communications in order to choke off trade flows were quite prevalent, both in peacetime and wartime, in the nineteenth and even twentieth centuries. Today, curtailing access to critical technologies and denying entry into the digital arteries of global finance – i.e., SWIFT – has become a recourse of choice.

  • Regional Variation and Multidomain Tactics
Although the data on coercive state behaviour across different domains (e.g., military, economic, cyber) is scattered, it is undeniable that interstate coercion has been on the uptick since the 2010s yet with remarkable regional variation across countries and continents. European states have increasingly resorted to economic and financial sanctions combined with arms supplies to put direct and direct pressure on opponents, as they did in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The US has relied on a mixture of military, economic, financial, and cyber measures to coerce other states, such as pressuring Iran into negotiations over its nuclear programme, or China as part of a competition over global economic, technological, and military pre-eminence. Middle Eastern states have employed cyber-attacks below the threshold of armed violence in combination with economic boycotts, as Gulf states have done against Qatar, and Israel and Iran are engaged in a prolonged conflict involving cyber-operations, targeted killings, and attacks on military and economic assets. China and Russia, for their part, have both made use of a wide range of military and non-military levers – overtly and covertly – to pressure both their neighbours and rivals. Examples range from aerial intrusions of airspaces and cyber intrusions of critical infrastructures to persistent meddling in democratic elections and targeted killings to land reclamation projects and land grabs creating new faits accomplis on the ground. And states are not the only coercive actors. International organisations – both intergovernmental and supranational – have leveraged diplomatic, military, economic, and other non-military tools for coercive purposes, as attested by the EU and NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In short, the threat and use of force for coercive purposes has deep historical roots but is also increasingly widespread. Yet, the study of coercion remains fragmented in parallel silos and in distinct fields of study, focusing on such phenomena as coercive diplomacy, military coercion, hybrid or gray zone strategies, and economic statecraft. As a result, the question as to why states choose to pursue different coercive strategies, under what conditions, and to what effect, remains therefore unsatisfactorily answered. 

The War Coercion and Statecraft Programme

By leveraging the unique networks offered by EISS in academic and policy circles, the War Coercion Statecraft Programme will bring together political scientists, strategic studies scholars, political economists, and historians to systematically investigate the panoply of ways in which states leverage the use of force – and the threat thereof – as a tool of statecraft, across both military and non-military domains. Specifically, by examining and comparing both historical and contemporary cases across different countries and continents, this Programme aims to sharpen our analytical understanding of three key dimensions of the threat and use of force in international politics, each one corresponding to (I) an annual theme and (II) a set of related events and publications.

The three year Programme envisages the following themes: 

2023

21st Century Coercive Statecraft:
A Research Agenda

2024

Coercive Statecraft in Peacetime:
Military, Non-Military, and Covert Means

2025

Coercion in Wartime:
Waging War as a Tool of Statecraft

  • 2023: 21st Century Coercive Statecraft: A Research Agenda
The ambition of the programme’s first year is to define the research agenda on coercive statecraft for the 2020s that will be further developed through the project’s events and publications in the subsequent years. To do so, it will bring together key coercive statecraft academics to outline the state of the art, discuss key findings that have emerged from publications in recent years, and identify future research avenues.

  • 2024: Coercive Statecraft in Peacetime: Military, Non-Military, and Covert Means
The second year of this project will focus on unpacking and systematically comparing the variety of types of coercive strategies and the panoply of tools leveraged by states to coerce their rivals or allies in peacetime, including military, non-military and covert means. It will seek to identify the key explanatory factors of why different countries have used different coercive peacetime strategies – and different coercive tools – across time and space, and assess to what effect they have done so using both.

  • 2025: Coercion in Wartime: Waging War as a Tool of Statecraft
Most coercion literature focuses on coercive statecraft short of war, but coercion also takes place in war and during war, both in the war theatre itself and outside of it. Although the extant literature has identified different coercive wartime strategies, there are no clear-cut typologies that differentiate between different types, logics, and objectives of these different strategies. What are the principal war coercion strategies used by warring actors? What are the different targets of such strategies? How successful have they been in recent wars? This project’s third year will aim to address such questions.

Would you like to know more?

Feel free to contact us!

Symposium Agenda
19-20 October 2023

Thursday 19 October

14:00 - 14:15
Welcome remarks

14:15 - 14:30
Presentation Programme: Rationale, Central Questions, Principal Objectives

14:30 - 14:45
Tour de Table: Introductory round

14:45 - 17:30
Roundtable 1: Defining Coercive Statecraft
Chair: Tim Sweijs | The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies / War Studies Research Centre

Introductory remarks by:
Peter Viggo Jakobsen | University of Southern Denmark
Dima Adamsky | Reichman University
Kelly Greenhill | Tufts University
Beatrice Heuser | University of Glasgow

Leading questions:

- Conceptual boundaries: what are coercive statecraft, coercive diplomacy and coercion?
- What are the differences and similarities between peacetime and wartime coercive statecraft?
- What are the differences and similarities between overt and covert coercive statecraft?
- How useful is Alexander George’s conceptual framework to evaluate coercive statecraft in the 21st century? How can it be improved?

19:30
Dinner

Friday 20 October

09:00 - 09:30
Welcome coffee

09:30 - 12:15
Roundtable 2: The Effects of Coercive Statecraft
Chair: Hugo Meijer | Sciences Po

Introductory remarks by:
Melanie Sisson | Brookings Institution
Elena McLean | University of Buffalo
Austin Carson | University of Chicago
Kristin Ven Bruusgaard | Norwegian Intelligence School

Leading questions:

- How can the effects of coercive statecraft be meaningfully measured? What are key methodological challenges and how can they be overcome?
- Under which conditions is the target likely to be coerced (e.g.. contextual variables, target characteristics)?
- How does the effectiveness of coercive statecraft vary across different instruments of coercion?
- How do timing/sequencing and combinatorial packages affect/influence the effectiveness of coercion?

12:15 - 13:15
Lunch break

13:15 - 16:00
Roundtable 3: When and why do leaders resort to coercive statecraft?
Chair: Eliza Gheorghe | Bilkent University

Introductory remarks by:
Roseanne McManus | Penn State University
Dan Altman | Georgia State University
Adam Stulberg | Georgia Institute of Technology
Andrew Mumford | University of Nottingham

Leading questions:

- Under what conditions do leaders rely on the threat of force rather than the actual use of force to attain their political objectives?
- Are there specific factors (e.g., nature of the objectives) that affect the choice for particular coercive strategies?
- Are there particular configurations of the international system (e.g., polarity, hierarchy) that affect the choice for particular coercive strategies?
- Are there specific state-level attributes (e.g. regime type) that affect the choice for particular coercive strategies?
- Are there specific individual-level characteristics that affect the choice for particular coercive strategies?
- If credibility of coercive threats is a key factor in getting the target to comply, how do leaders assess credibility, and what strategies do they use to increase credibility?

16:00 - 16:30
Coffee break

16:30 - 17:00
Synthesis and Wrap

17:00 - 18:00
Farewell Drinks  

European University Institute, Florence, Italy

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