Diplomats and state leaders have a wide-range of options at their disposal when trying to force cooperation from so-called “rogue” states. Among the most popular tools for U.S. diplomats is coercive diplomacy, which uses the threat and limited applications of force to secure cooperation from foreign countries. This method has been applied extensively by the United States against Iran, but given the country’s continued refusal to dismantle its nuclear energy program, some analysts are beginning to question its effectiveness.

US and Iran

Coercive diplomacy is arguably the favorite tool for U.S. leaders and diplomats. Coercive diplomacy is the threat of force and sometimes the limited and targeted application of force to make countries to change or reverse their actions. Coercive diplomacy can also include enforced economic sanctions, as force is used to deprive countries from access to goods and services.

The United States is in an especially interesting position as it all but owns a monopoly on global power. Many countries can exert power regionally, but since the fall of the Soviet Union, only the United States can project its power any time, anywhere. This ability to project power allows the United States to threaten anyone it wants, meaning that the U.S. can exert coercive diplomacy against any country in the world.

At the moment, the main target of U.S. ire is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The United States and Iran have not been on good terms since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when student protesters took numerous embassy staff hostage. Currently, the two nations are feuding over Iran’s attempts to achieve nuclear power, supposedly for energy use only. Many observers believe, however, that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, or at least the capacity to produce nuclear weapons.

There is evidence that the Iranian government is beginning to crack. Recently, an article appeared on an Iranian government website, admitting that the nuclear program will cause more harm than good. Reports are also circulating that many prominent government officials are open to dialogue with the US, while hardliners are still urging Iran to move forward with its nuclear ambitions.

Still, there is evidence that the sanctions are having massive effects on the ground. Inflation has been skyrocketing, while the IMF has stated that it believes that Iran’s economy is contracting. Basic supplies, such as food, fuel, and medicine, are becoming more hard to obtain. While this punishes many innocent civilians, it also ramps up pressure on the government and could create fissures in civil society.

While the jury is still out on the current application of coercive diplomacy, the United States has enjoyed considerable success in the past. In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, the Iranian government was fearful of a U.S. expansion eastward and into Iranian soil. The threat of violence seemed very real to Iran which suddenly found itself caught in-between two large American led military forces.

The then reformist government under President ‘Khatami’ actually reached out to the U.S. with the offer to discuss essentially anything and to ramp up cooperation on numerous issues. Some analysts believe that Iran would have even been willing to drop its nuclear program. Vice-President Dick Cheney decided however that Iran could not be negotiated with.

If Iran does not back off of its nuclear program there is a serious risk that the United States or one of its allies will launch a military campaign against the beleaguered nation. Already bogged down in two conflicts on either side of Iran, the US has been trying to avoid conflict with the Islamic Republic. Israel, on the other hand, has been very vocal about their intentions to attack Iran’s nuclear development facilities. This could possibly spark a complex war which the US would most likely be drawn into. Since Iran has already alienated many of its neighbors, there is hope that such a conflict would not spread into a regional war. Still, Iran could possibly shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which carries 20% of the world’s oil supplies. Further, Iran is believed to be behind several recent failed terrorist attacks. Their brazen attempts worry some security officials who believe that Iran could resort to terrorist attacks.

With the stakes so high, the US is hoping to avoid conflict with Iran. Yet at the same time, pressure is starting to ramp up even from within the States for action. Most analysts agree that a nuclear armed Iran would represent a grave threat to the Middle East and could destabilize the region. There is a real possibility for either war or a nuclear arms race. With how vital the Middle East is to the global economy, many diplomats are desperate to avoid a conflict.