Deterrence and coercive diplomacy: The contributions of Alexander George

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Alexander George was a towering figure who made path breaking and enduring contributions to political psychology, international relations, and social science methodology. I focus on George's closely related research programs on deterrence and coercive diplomacy, with special attention to the importance of the asymmetry of motivation, strategies for "designing around" a deterrent threat, the controllability of risks, images of the adversary, signaling, the sequential failure of deterrence, the role of positive inducements along with coercive threats, and the need for actor-specific models of the adversary. In the process, I highlight other elements of George's theoretically and methodologically integrated research program: his conceptions of the proper role of theory; his emphasis on the infeasibility of a universal theory and the need for conditional generalizations that are historically grounded, sensitive to context, bounded by scope conditions, and useful for policy makers; and the indispensability of process tracing in theoretically driven case studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-552
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Asymmetry of motivation
  • Coercive diplomacy
  • Crisis management
  • Deterrence
  • Extended deterrence
  • Image of adversary
  • Policy-relevant theory
  • Political psychology

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