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Coercion―the use of threatened force to induce an adversary to change its behavior―is a critical function of the U.S. military. U.S. forces have recently fought in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf, and the Horn of Africa to compel recalcitrant regimes and warlords to stop repression, abandon weapons programs, permit humanitarian relief, and otherwise modify their actions. Yet despite its overwhelming military might, the United States often fails to coerce successfully. This report examines the phenomenon of coercion and how air power can contribute to its success. Three factors increase the likelihood of successful coercion: (1) the coercer's ability to raise the costs it imposes while denying the adversary the chance to respond (escalation dominance); (2) an ability to block an adversary's military strategy for victory; and (3) an ability to magnify third-party threats, such as internal instability or the danger posed by another enemy. Domestic
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In Fiscal Year 1997, under the sponsorship of the Air Force AssistantDeputy Chief of Staff for Air and Space Operations and the Air ForceDirector of Strategic Planning, RAND's Project AIR FORCE began atwo-year effort to explore the role of air power in future conflicts.The primary objective of this study was to help the U.S. Air Force(USAF) think about how best to employ air power to meet the evolvingsecurity challenges of the early 21st century. Particular emphasiswas given to ensuring that air power would be relevant across theentire spectrum of crises and conflicts and that it would be effectiveagainst adversaries with diverse economies, cultures, political institutions,and military capabilities.As part of this larger study, members of the research team exploredthe role of air power as a coercive instrument. In recent years, decisionmakershave called on the USAF to play a major role in attemptingto coerce foes in the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, and Europe.Although the United States and the USAF have scored some notablesuccesses, the record is mixed. The purpose of the study reportedhere is to better understand the phenomenon of coercion and learnwhat is necessary to carry it out, anticipate likely constraints on theuse of force, and determine how air power can best be used tocoerce. The report will be of particular interest to USAF and otherDefense Department planners who seek to use force more effectively.The study was conducted as part of the Strategy and Doctrine programof RAND's Project AIR FORCE.PROJECT AIR FORCEProject AIR FORCE, a division of RAND, is the Air Force FederallyFunded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) for studies andanalysis. It provides the USAF with independent analysis of policyalternatives affecting the deployment, employment, combat readiness,and support of current and future air and space forces.Research is performed in four programs: Aerospace Force Development;Manpower, Personnel, and Training; Resource Management;and Strategy and Doctrine.About the Author:
Daniel L. Byman (Ph.D., political science, M.I.T.) is a policy analyst at Rand whose research interests include modeling ethnic conflict, assessing Middle East politics and security issues, developing countermeasures against terrorism, reevaluating air power theory, and other general issues related to U.S. foreign policy. Eric Larson (Ph.D., Policy Analysis, Rand Graduate School) is a policy analyst at Rand with nearly two decades of experience, primarily in national security and foreign affairs.
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