This roundtable debates ideas and evidence in Diane Pfundstein Chamberlain’s recent book, Cheap Threats; Why the United States Struggles to Coerce Weak States. Pfundstein Chamberlain’s book considers the important puzzle described in the title, and in doing so puts forth a surprising new theory of coercive diplomacy. The reviewers praise some aspects of the book, but they raise concerns about both theory and evidence. Pfundstein Chamberlain responds comprehensively to the critiques. The debate is particularly interesting because the reviewers, though all experts in coercion and/or deterrence, approach the book from quite different angles.

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A U.S. Air Force A-10A Warthog in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) combat mission, Apr. 22, 1999.

A U.S. Air Force A-10A Warthog in flight during a NATO Operation Allied Force (Kosovo) combat mission, Apr. 22, 1999.

Philip Haun’s Coercion, Survival and War: Why Weak States Resist the United States is a much-needed book. After over a decade where the struggle against terrorism dominated policy, conflicts among states—such as the tension between China and Japan over disputed islands or European and U.S. efforts to push back against Russia’s attempts to expand its sphere of influence—are now at the front and center of policymakers’ concerns and may prove the most important security issues for the Trump administration.

Haun’s work presents a general theory of coercive failure, arguing that too often coercers insist on too much—in particular demands for regime change and surrendering territory. Such demands are…

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