This chapter introduces the question of why the United States so often fails to coerce weak states. Coercion is defined as the threat of force or restricted use of force to convince a target to comply with a challenger’s demands. In asymmetric interstate conflict a powerful challenger chooses between accommodation, brute force or coercion. The chapter includes a table and summary statistics for the thirty asymmetric crises between the United States and weak states since World War II. The chapter considers conventional non-rational and rational explanations for coercion failure and introduces an alternative explanation based on a weak state’s survival concerns. The chapter concludes by reflecting on why the United States would knowingly make coercive demands that threaten survival and offers an explanation based on the desire to lower the diplomatic and political costs of going to war.
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