Reagan’s Coercive Diplomacy: A Case of U.S. Air Strikes against Libya



By early 1986 Libyan leader Gaddafi’s open demonstration of hostile attitude toward
the United States and covert backing of terrorist activities in Europe and the Middle
East intensified. As an initial response, President Reagan issued an executive order
banning trade and transactions with Libya. In March the Libyan aircraft engaged U.S.
Navy and Air Force units during the exercises in the Mediterranean and in early April
Libyan operatives bombed a discotheque in West Berlin frequented by the U.S. servicemen.
President Reagan ordered air strikes against this country’s terrorist and military
targets. State Secretary Shultz was in favor of a “low-intensity warfare” option from the
early days of internal discussion on selecting the appropriate and adequate strategy.
This use of limited force is a case from the category of “coercive diplomacy” with the
aim of forcing policy change rather than regime change. President Reagan considered
the operation successful but the overall success of operation El Dorado Canyon as a
“coercive diplomacy” in reaching its specific objective of curtailing international terrorism
activity was evaluated by researchers as limited and short-term.