From Rome to Great Britain, every empire has assimilated the conquered with language, institutions and ideas, often by coercion, so that the conquered would be easier to rule over, and the empire’s power and interest are maximized.
Similar is the tale of the United States of America. When the US found European gunboats blockading Venezuela’s port in 1902, it couldn’t sit idly by anymore, so it decided to exercise “international police power” in the Western Hemisphere and intervene in other country’s internal affairs (Roosevelt Corollary 1904).
Hegemony is not easy to manage. So for those who were too stubborn to accept its rule ~ Cuba, Iran, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, and most recently, Russia ~ the US has resorted to harsh coercion including economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, or more directly, missiles, drones and marines. The tools of coercion may have varied, but Washington’s goal has been consistent ~ inducing a major change in the target’s political system so as to wipe out its strategic, diplomatic and economic ambitions. In this way, problems are solved once and for all and the “American Empire” is cemented. In the past seven decades, the US has fought major wars in
Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Unhappy with the price and outcome of military options, sanction has become Washington’s favourite tool of coercion. During former US president Barack Obama’s first term, the US sanctioned on average 500 entities every year. During previous President Donald Trump’s term, that number doubled.
Incumbent President Joe Biden has inherited this coercive diplomacy faithfully and sanctioned Myanmar, Nicaragua and Russia during his first months in office. Two months into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US has imposed more than 800 sanctions on Russia. Sanctions have officially become Washington’s go-to option apart from military actions, and the Americans seem to be confident that they can coerce a major country into submission with the US’ hegemonic power in the global economy and financial system.
It is even more remarkable that the Americans are using coercion to reinforce coercion. The US has made it clear that those who follow its sanctions are loyal friends, and those that attempt to judge the situation based on its merits are not “standing on the right side of history” and will be greeted with “severe consequences”.
The actual efficacy of US coercion is a topic of debate, but its damage effects have been keenly felt by ordinary people in those countries targeted by the US. For instance, US embargo has cost Cuba roughly $130 billion (about one and a half times Cuba’s annual GDP) in economic value over the past six decades, and studies have shown that the embargo “contributes to increasing health threats and the decline of some health indicators”.
As for US sanctions on Iran, they have led to a 42 per cent annual inflation there, and more than one-third of Iranians are living below “the basic minimum of subsistence”.
Despite the human and economic tolls, the term coercion wasn’t considered negative in the US dictionary. For a while, it was proudly branded as “an alternative to war”, as we read about the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 in the many pages of study by Alexander George, who was among the first to put “coercive diplomacy” into theocratic framework in the early 1990s.
From the Trump administration to the Biden administration, Washington’s politicians have been using the term “coercion” to describe those moves by China that they don’t like.