Coercing Compliance: State-Initiated Brute Force in Today’s World

Coercing Compliance

State-Initiated Brute Force in Today’s World

Robert Mandel

Stanford University Press, Redwood City, California, 2015, 320 pages

Book Review published on: March 3, 2017

In a trial there is usually a judge, a jury, a defense, and a prosecution. Members of the jury listen to both the prosecution and the defense in order to make up their minds. Robert Mandel’s Coercing Compliance: State-Initiated Brute Force in Today’s World is a trial with evidence presented only by the prosecutor, and the evidence presented supports the author’s contention that the use of force for coercing compliance is not only dangerous, but also bad and wrong.

Normally an analytical book presents an idea, provides evidence that is as exhaustive as possible, and then draws conclusions that either support or refute the initial hypotheses. In Coercing Compliance, Mandel presents his conclusion, works to persuade the reader, cherry-picks a few sample conflicts, and finally conducts a brief analysis. For example, he concludes early in the book that states “exaggerate the deterrence and compellence benefits attained from military escalation and force use, seeing what they expect to see projecting wishful thinking onto force outcomes.”

The data sets Mandel presents to the reader fall woefully short. According to, around fifty conflicts were ongoing during 2015, yet Mandel lists only ten external and ten internal conflicts since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Furthermore, Mandel evaluates example conflicts on the basis of whether they make the local population happy, rather than whether they achieve their missions. He continues such subjective analyses throughout the book. For example, he calls drone strikes against pivotal al-Qaida terrorists an “unprovoked extermination of terrorist targets,” despite an earlier reference to the 11 September 2001 attacks as the reason the United States engaged in such use of force.

In chapter 6, Mandel continues to mix logic with emotional baggage. For example, he states that “to be successful, brute force use needs to be a lot smarter than in the past,” but follows with, “although admittedly the words ‘smart’ and ‘brute’ rarely ought to appear together,” reminding the reader that use of brute force is generally a bad thing.

Mandel’s final set of conclusions state that the “good” use of force was what the United States used to defeat Germany and Japan in World War II. He indicates that, given what has happened in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries, if “national political and military leaders become more adaptable and open to reexamining their central strategic assumptions, then force use might avoid leaving a chaotic confounding cauldron of carnage in its wake.” Mandel downplays that using force during World War II cost the planet 3 percent of its population (sixty million), and that modern political and military leaders apply force today to prevent another world war and its associated losses.

Anyone who has made up his or her mind that the use of force by state actors is generally a bad thing will greatly enjoy Mandel’s book. It is chock full of references by fellow travelers and does an excellent job of presenting one side of the story. However, anyone who is looking for a true analysis of the use of force by state actors—both costs and benefits—should not waste time reading it. I will, however, admit the book cover, with the reader staring down the gun of a T-72 main battle tank, is excellent!

Book Review written by: Karsten Engelmann, PhD, Springfield, Virginia