In her latest book, Triadic Coercion: Israel’s Targeting of States That Host Nonstate Actors, Dr. Wendy Pearlman partnered with Dr. Boaz Atzili of American University to demonstrate how one state can combat a non-state actor within the borders of a foreign nation through a strategy they call “triadic coercion,” wherein a country forces another into acting against a small non-state.
Dr. Pearlman is an associate professor of political science here at NU where she is also a Faculty Fellow for the Buffett Institute. She is now the author of four books focusing on social movements, politics and conflicts in the Middle East. Pearlman’s third book, We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices From Syria is an astonishing collection of interviews she conducted with Syrians of all ages, backgrounds and professions to chronicle strife through the eyes of those who live it.
Her new book takes a look at how many states around the world have used triadic coercion to varying degrees of success. But the focus always returns to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pearlman offers a detailed analysis of Israel as a coercive state in the Middle East over the past 65 years to show the causal conditions and outcomes of triadic coercion.
So, what is triadic coercion?
According to Pearlman, this is a strategy by which one nation uses military force to threaten another state into preventing non-state attackers within their borders from attacking the first nation. Take the U.S. War in Afghanistan, for example. Following the 9/11 attacks, President Bush told the nation, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” In this address, Bush flexed America’s military muscle to threaten any nation having or supporting an al-Qaeda presence. The reason this tactic is so appealing to coercer states is that it is difficult to fight a non-state with unknown structures and assets. By forcing the host state to action against the non-state actor, the coercer can fight in a more conventional way.
The traditional view of interstate conflict is that coercion is more successful and efficient when a state has greater power relative to its opponent. However, counterintuitively, Pearlman and Atzili noticed that triadic coercion is more likely to be effective when the host state is controlled by a strong regime. The healthier a host state is, the more legitimate the campaign against the non-state actors. In addition, a stronger regime can boast more resources, organization, stable institutions and internal cohesion.
Then why do many countries, especially Israel, continue to use triadic coercion against weak regimes?
According to Pearlman and Atzili, countries like Israel that have a long history of non-state aggressors and are experiencing increasing threats from these actors have developed a strategic culture around triadic coercion. As Atzili puts it, “we call it culture because it’s no longer a rational decision to keep using it despite failure – states are no longer weighing the pros and cons of policy.”
What’s the future of triadic coercion?
It may seem that in a quickly globalizing world with increased digital connectivity there would be more multicultural understanding that would dissolve this strategic culture. In fact, the opposite is true: triadic coercion is becoming more prominent. Though there is no certain cause to explain this, it may be that increased connectivity can also work against peace between peoples. Atzili tentatively stated in an interview with American University, “I’m looking things from one perspective, but seeing the increase of identity politics and the rise of extreme nationalism around the world...I think that connectivity isn’t necessarily creating openness.”
The results of the book can be interpreted as a call to action for these countries to adopt a new way of viewing their situation and policies. If they take the time to weigh the pros and cons of current strategies, they may be more inclined to make better, more humanitarian decisions.