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Cruising into Conflict: A Mixed Methods Examination of Cruise Missile Possession and the Initiation of Military Force

Dennis P Crawford, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This research examines the effect of cruise missile possession on state behavior. Specifically, it seeks to determine if countries who possess cruise missiles are more likely to initiate a military threat, display, or use of force than countries who do not possess cruise missiles. Traditional International Relations theory suggests that, all else being equal, a state with an asymmetrical military advantage should enjoy concessions from target states, decreasing the likelihood of armed conflict. Accordingly, coercion theory warns the use of armed force to change adversarial behavior should be exercised sparingly. However, this dissertation finds that states possessing cruise missile initiate armed force at twice the rate of states who do not possess cruise missiles and are significantly more likely overall to initiate a militarized interstate dispute or crisis. These conclusions suggest these weapons provide a qualitatively unique capability that makes armed force an attractive coercive option at lower levels of conflict. As more states seek to fill defense gaps and counter major power military capabilities, cruise missiles continue to proliferate, lending urgency to an understanding of their effects on conflict initiation short of war. Using a mixed method approach, this research provides a systematic empirical analysis, using an original dataset of cruise missile possession created specifically for this project, to measure changes in state behavior. Additionally, I present two explanatory case studies, to illustrate coercive cruise missile use, focusing on the 1982 Falkland Conflict and the use of cruise missiles as a coercive tool by the United States in the 1990s. This research may have profound implications for both international relations scholars and policy makers. The results demonstrate that cruise missiles increase the likelihood of using military threats, displays, and uses of force regardless of regime type. More research may be needed to understand the impact of technology on coercive strategy, while policy makers may choose to call for more robust controls on the spread of cruise missile technology.

Subject Area

International Relations|Military studies

Recommended Citation

Crawford, Dennis P, "Cruising into Conflict: A Mixed Methods Examination of Cruise Missile Possession and the Initiation of Military Force" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI22615655.