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					Lecture Notes                                                                 Conflict Resolution
                                        Arms and Influence
                                          by T. Schelling

Introduction Diplomacy of Violence

         The difference between Schelling’s concepts of deterrence and compellence are often
subtle but never unimportant. Both of these concepts are fundamental to what he terms “the
diplomacy of violence.” “The diplomacy of violence is the art of coercion and intimidation.”
Schelling maintains that since modern weapons technology has drastically altered the nature of
war (it is now more punitive than acquisitive), military strategy can no longer be viewed as the
traditional science of military victory. In the age of nuclear weapons, military power is not so
much exercised as threatened. Military strategy in this age is the diplomacy of violence.
Consequently, there is a premium on the mastery of threat strategies, such as deterrence and

Fundamental Differences

          Deterrence is the threat intended to keep an adversary from starting something.
Compellence is the threat to an adversary to do something. This distinction is in the timing and in
the initiative, in who has to make the first move, in whose initiative is put to the test. For
instance, to deter an enemy’s advance it may be enough to burn the escape bridges behind me, or
to rig a trip wire between us that automatically blows us both up when he advances. Historical
examples of this type of strategy are the stationing of troops in Berlin and Quemoy. In the Berlin
situation in particular and Europe in general, the U. S. stationed troops in these areas not so much
to defend them against a superior Soviet army, but to leave the Soviet Union in no doubt that the
U. S. would be automatically involved in the event of any attack on Europe. The business of
burning bridges is best illustrated by the position that Chiang Kai-shek got himself into, and the
U. S. with him, when he moved a large portion of his best troops to Quemoy. Evacuation under
fire would be exceedingly difficult; if attacked, his troops had no choice but to fight, and the U. S.
probably had no choice but to assist them. In terns of preventing the enemies from advancing,
either in Europe or onto Quemoy, the strategy of deterrence has been very successful for both
U. S. and Taiwan.

         Deterrence thus involves setting the stage—either by announcement, by rigging the trip
wire, or by incurring the obligation—and them waiting. The overt act (the attack) is up to the
opponent. The stage setting can often be nonintrusive, nonhostile, nonprovocative. The act that
is intrusive, hostile, or provocative is usually the one to be deterred; the deterrent threat only
changes the consequences if the act in question—the one to be deterred—is then taken.

        Compellence, is contrast, usually involves initiating an action (or an irrevocable
commitment to action) that can cease, or become harmless, only if the opponents responds. The
overt act, the first step, is up to the side that makes the compellent threat. To deter, one digs in, or
lays a minefield, and waits, in the interest of inaction. To compel, one gets up enough
momentum (figuratively but sometimes literally) to make the other act to avoid collision.
President Kennedy’s sending of the fleet to sea, in quarantine of Cuba in October 1962 can be
considered as an historical example of compellence. Although the blockade had some quality of
deterrent stage setting, it was essentially an overt act (with a degree of irrevocability in
commitment) that forced the Russians to act to avoid a US-USSR collision. The success of the
blockade, however, is due probably more to its deterrent-like qualities than those qualities of

        Thus, the threat that compels rather than deters often requires that some sort of action be
taken until the other acts, rather than if he acts. In this respect, the differences between deterrence
and compellence are much like those between the static and the dynamic.

Differences in Timing

         Deterrence tends to be indefinite in its timing. If you cross the line we shoot in self-
defense, or the mines explode. When? Whenever you cross the line—preferably never, but the
timing is up to you or by obligation that immediately becomes due. But we can wait—preferably
forever, that’s our purpose.

         Compellence has to be definite: We move, and you must get out of the way. But when?
There has to be a deadline, otherwise tomorrow never comes. If the compellent advance takes
infinitely long to reach the border by traversing, with infinite patience, the infinitely small
reaming distances that separate him from collision, it creates no inducement to vacate the border.
Compellence to be effective can’t wait forever, still, it has to wait a little, collision can’t be
instantaneous. The compellent threat has to be put in motion to be credible, and then the victim
must yield. Too little time before collision and compliance becomes impossible; too much and
compliance becomes unnecessary. Thus compellence involves timing in a way that deterrence
typically does not.

Differences in Communicating Expectations

         In addition to the question of “when,” compellence usually involves questions of where,
what, and how much. “Do nothing” is simple. “Do something” is ambiguous. “Stop where you
are” is simple. “Go back” leads to “How far?” “Leave me alone” is simple. “Cooperate is
inexact and open-ended. A deterrent position—a status quo, in territory or in more figurative
terms—can often be surveyed & noted; a compellent advance has to be projected as to
destination, and the destination can be unclear in intent as well as in momentum and braking
power. In a deterrent threat, the objective is often communicated by the very preparations that
make the threat credible; the trip-wire often demarcates the forbidden territory. There is usually
an inherent connection between what is threatened and what it is threatened about. Compellence
threats tend to communicate only the general direction of compliance, and are less likely to be
self-limiting, less likely to communicate in the very design of the threat just what, or how much,
is demanded.

        Compellence is the business the U. S. got into in bombing North Vietnam. It was trying
to make the North Vietnamese regime do something (event if only to stop something it was
doing). Nonetheless, how could the North Vietnamese comply if they did not know exactly what
was wanted? It is possible that American government may have been in the position of
demanding results not specific actions, leaving it to the North Vietnamese through overt acts, or
merely through reduced support and enthusiasm, to weaken the Vietcong or to let it lose strength.
Not enough is known publicly to permit us to judge this Vietnamese instance in terms of
compellent strategy; but it points up the complexity of communicating just what or how much is

         In contrast, the Formosa Resolution of 1955 (making the U. S. obligation to protect
Formosa part of its domestic law) illustrates the possible definitive of the nature of a deterrent
strategy. The resolution not only communicated the U. S. intention or obligation to Formosa, it
enhanced it. Together with the treaty, the resolution was a ceremony to leave the Chinese and the
Russian under no doubt that the U. S. could not back down from the defense of Formosa without
losing intolerable loss of prestige, reputation, and leadership.

Differences in Assurances

         Actually, any coercive threat requires corresponding assurances; the object of a threat is
to give somebody a choice. To say, “One step more and I shoot,” can be a deterrent threat only if
accompanied by the implicit assurance, “And if you stop I won’t.” Giving notice of unconditional
intent to shoot gives him no choice. What was said above about deterrent threats being typically
less ambiguous in communicating intent can be restated: The corresponding assurances—the ones
that together with the threatened response, define the opponent’s choice—are clearer than those
that can be embodied in a compellent action. (Ordinary blackmailers, not just nuclear, find the
“assurances” troublesome when their threats are compellent.)

        Assurances can only be confirmed and demonstrated over time; as long as he stays back,
and we don’t shoot, we fulfill the assurances and confirm them. The assurances that accompany
a compellent action—move back a mile and I won’t shoot (otherwise I shall) and I won’t then try
again for a second mile—are harder to demonstrate in advance, unless it be through a long past
record of abiding by one’s own verbal assurances.

Differences in the Nature of Compliance

         There is another characteristic of compellent threat, arising in the need for affirmative
action, that often distinguishes them from deterrent threats. It is that the very act of compliance
of doing what is demanded—is more conspicuously compliant, more recognizable as submission
under duress, then when an act is merely withheld in the face of a deterrent threat. Compliance is
likely to be less causal, less capable of being rationalized as something that one was going to do
anyhow. The Chinese did not need to acknowledge that they shied away from Quemoy or
Formosa because of American threats, and the Russians need not have agreed that it was NATO
that deterred them from conquering Western Europe, and no one can be sure. Indeed, if a
deterrent threat is created before the prescribed act is even contemplated, their need never be an
explicit decision not to transgress, just an absence of any temptation to do the thing prohibited.
The Chinese still say they will take Quemoy in their own good time and the Russians go on
saying that their intentions against Western Europe were never aggressive.

          The Russians cannot, though claim that they were on the point of removing their missiles
from Cuba anyway, and that the President’s television broadcast, the naval quarantine and threats
of more violent action, had no effect. If the North Vietnamese dramatically issue a call to the
Vietcong to cease activity and to evacuate South Vietnam, it is a conspicuous act of submission.
In fact, the mere act of bombing North Vietnam changed the status of any steps that the North
Vietnam might take to comply with American wishes.


         The compellent action in the Cuban Missile Crisis was remarkably effective given all the
complexities associated with this type of strategy. The U. S. not only forced the Soviet steamship
(carrying missiles) to turn around but also got the Soviet to remove the missiles from Cuba. This
compellent action made the verbal threat about removing the missiles credible. Another
achievement of this compellent strategy (if we assumed the Cuban Missile Crisis falls under one
type of strategy) was assuring the Russians if they did remove the missiles the U. S. would not
then invade Cuba—an assurance not easily made credible given the Bay of Pigs. The timing of
the blockade was near perfect because it caught the Soviet ships on route but with sufficient time
to turn around. Consequently, it allowed the U. S. to get some conspicuous compliance on the
part of the Soviet Union, if only to make clear to the Russians themselves that there were risks in
testing how much the U. S. would absorb.

         In contrast, the effectiveness of the compellent strategy in North Vietnam is not very
clear. One way to assess effectiveness in bombing North Vietnam is to focus on the results rather
than specific deeds of compliance. In this connection it is very difficult to interpret whether or
not the lull in fighting is a form of compliance or a quid pro quo for the bombing halt. My own
suspicion is that it is for the later reason. Another way of assessing effectiveness of compellent
action is by cost. Since the compellent action of bombing must be conceived as part of the bigger
game, i.e., Vietnam, the price the U. S. is paying seems to overshadow any limited effectiveness
of the compellent strategy.

        The strategy of deterrence in Berlin and Quemoy is also difficult to assess. If we
measure the strategy’s effectiveness in terms of preventing the adversaries from occupying
Quemoy & Berlin, then it is possible to say that in both cases deterrence was effective. However,
effectiveness of strategy is more complex than just deterring one specific type of activity. In the
Berlin situation deterrence did not prevent the Berlin Wall or the Autobahn Blockade. The U. S.
commitment in Berlin contrasted to these incidents was sufficiently ambiguous to undermine the
element of automatic of response. When the Wall went up, the West was able to construe its
obligation as not obliging forceful opposition. The Soviets probably anticipated that, if the West
had a choice between interpreting its obligation to demand forceful opposition and interpreting
the obligation more leniently, there would be a temptation to elect the lenient interpretation.

        In the Quemoy case, the deterrence strategy (while very effective in terms of the Chinese
Nationalists interests) appeared to be a genuine embarrassment for the U. S. For reasons that had
nothing to do with American policy, Quemoy had been successfully defended by the Nationalists
when Chiang Kai-shek evacuated the mainland, and it remained in Nationalist hands. By the time
the U. S. assumed the commitment to Formosa, the island of Quemoy stood as a ragged edge
about which the U. S. intentions were ambiguous. Secretary Dulles in 1958 expressed the official
view that we could not afford to vacate Quemoy under duress. The implication seemed to be that
we had no genuine desire to take risks for Quemoy and might prefer it if Quemoy had fallen to
the Communist in 1949; but the U. S. relations with Communist China were at stake once
Quemoy became an issue. Thus, the U. S. strategy of deterrence in Formosa committed the US to
an area which it might have preferred not to have any obligation to defend.