King's College London

Research portal

The Obama Administration and Syrian Chemical Weapons: Deterrence, Compellence, and the Limits of the “Resolve Plus Bombs” Formula

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Wyn Bowen, Matthew Moran, Jeffrey Knopf

Original languageEnglish
Accepted/In press5 Jun 2020


  • Syria CW - AOM

    Syria_CW_AOM.docx, 130 KB, application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document

    Uploaded date:10 Jun 2020

King's Authors


This article examines responses to the Syrian government’s possession and eventual use of chemical weapons (CW) in that country’s civil war in the period 2012-2013. During this time, the United States and other outside powers applied coercive strategies, in both a deterrent and compellent mode. Outcomes varied: compellence in the form of coercive diplomacy achieved a partial success in getting Syria to give up much of its chemical stockpile, but there were multiple deterrence failures culminating in a large-scale sarin gas attack in August 2013. We examine this record to draw lessons about factors associated with the effectiveness of coercion. Our analysis draws on insights from existing research on both deterrence and coercive diplomacy to develop an integrated analytical framework involving the interplay of three factors – credibility, motivations, and assurance. We find that the typical default approach to coercion, based on demonstrating toughness and threatening to impose costs using airpower – an approach we call the “resolve plus bombs” formula – was not sufficient to change Syria’s calculations regarding chemical use.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454