The utility of coercion theory in the Afghan conflict

Skaar, Steinar (2017) The utility of coercion theory in the Afghan conflict. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines the utility of coercion theory in complex contemporary conflicts through a study of the Afghan conflict as it unfolded in the provinces of Faryab and Kunduz from 2005 to 2012. The last two decades have produced ample examples of incidents where the UN, international alliances or states have found it necessary to use force in order to coerce states or armed groups to stop unacceptable activities or change their behaviour. However, the potential of military force to induce behavioural change in such conflicts is understudied and poorly understood.
In the Afghan conflict the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) together with the Afghan security forces applied force in order to influence the Taliban and other groups who violently opposed the elected government to change their behaviour. Although neither ISAF nor the participating nations had articulated a coercive strategy, force was used consistent with coercion theory on a number of occasions. Coercion theory consists of a number of assumptions and presuppositions, the existence of which should be present on the ground for theory to have utility. This thesis argues that these were generally not, or only to a limited degree present in the Afghan conflict. It further argues that in the cases where ISAF and its Afghan allies applied force consistent with theory, it did generally not translate to the desired outcomes, in particular when coercion represented the dominant effort.
This thesis consequently argues that coercion theory is not well suited to provide explanatory power to or predict outcomes in conflicts that are comparable to the conflict in Afghanistan. In particular, theory’s presumption of unitary actors, the rationality presumption and the notion of the credible threat is insufficient. Theory’s notion of coercive mechanisms also assumes a connection between human behaviour and what may influence it that is overly simplistic. This consequently proposes a revised set of assumptions and presuppositions as well as a revised understanding of mechanisms that acknowledges that coercion alone is rarely sufficient to instil sustainable change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Coercion theory, Afghanistan, war studies, counter insurgency, contemporary conflicts.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D839 Post-war History, 1945 on
U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Marshall, Dr. Alexander and Haug, Dr. Karl Erik
Date of Award: 2017
Depositing User: Dr. Steinar Skaar
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8872
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2018 11:16
Last Modified: 18 May 2018 09:08

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