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A mock-up of the Statue of Liberty is seen on September 11 outside a tourist resort in the city of Shengjin, Albania, which has taken in Afghan refugees. US coercive diplomacy hurts its relations with allies, increases mistrust and depletes its soft power. Photo: AFP

LettersWhy Joe Biden’s America must give up coercive diplomacy

  • The Afghan debacle highlights missteps in US foreign policy, illustrating the pitfalls of Washington’s penchant for leaning hard on both rivals and allies to get its way
What is happening in Afghanistan illustrates the failure of US diplomacy in this region. It reminds us that war is costly, inhuman and doomed to fail, no matter who wins.

It is obvious that the US today is using more sticks than carrots in its foreign policy, against not only the so-called failed states, but also its allies. Why does the US, seen as a model democratic country, resort to coercive diplomacy in its foreign affairs?

Coercive diplomacy refers to the use of threats or limited force to coerce an opponent into stopping or changing an action already taken.

It is not news that the US exercises coercive diplomacy. Historically, American actions against Cuba and the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis, against Vietnam during the Vietnam war, and against Iraq during the Gulf War were all examples of coercive diplomacy.

In the old days, coercion was more often used against opponents. However, the Trump administration normalised coercive diplomacy, using threats against so-called hostile countries and allies alike.

At the multilateral level, the US, under the Trump administration, withdrew from various international organisations and multilateral agreements and undermined the international order.

In the Biden era, the US has not quite restrained its coercive behaviour. Although President Joe Biden is reconstructing the ally system to maintain American hegemony, the US is not above taking coercive action.

In a recent paper, “Defending Europe’s Economic Sovereignty: new ways to resist economic coercion”, the European Council on Foreign Relations points out that the US has used coercive extraterritorial sanctions and forced sensitive data transfers out of companies.

US coercion is aimed at curbing the rise of its rivals and manipulating its allies to meet its demands, usually in the name of safeguarding the liberal international order dominated by the West. Unfortunately, the results of coercion are usually not what Washington expected. One of the reasons is that the US itself usually acts as a rule breaker.

Such actions do not benefit Washington. Rather, they hurt relations with its allies, increase mistrust and deplete its soft power.

We are living in an increasingly interdependent world. Mutual respect, understanding and cooperation are what we need today to make ourselves and others better. This applies to great powers and individuals alike.

Zheng Yingqin, research fellow, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies