Thomas Schelling

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Thomas Crombie Schelling (born 14 April 1921) is an American economist and nuclear strategic. His 1967 book Arms and Influence was one of the most famous books of the Cold War.


Schelling developed the concept of "compellence" in military strategy. This basically meant taking military (or other action) to compell the enemy to act (as apposed to deterence which prevented action), and in real terms meant punishing whole nations until they comply with US wishes. The concept is explained in the book American Defence Policy as follows:

Compellence, in Schelling’s words, “involves initiating an action…that can cease, or become harmless, only if the opponent responds.” Compellence can employ force either physically or peacefully. A state can start actually harming another with physical destruction until the latter abides by the former’s wishes…America’s bombing of North Vietnam in early 1965 was an example of physical compellence.[1]

According to Denis Healey: "after [Schelling's] first visit to Vietnam, where he saw his abstract theory of 'compellence' put into bloody and senseless action, he expressed his resulting guilt in a moving address to the annual ISS conference.[2]



  1. Peter L. Hays, Brenda J. Vallance, Alan R. Van Tassel, American Defense Policy (JHU Press, 1997) p.19
  2. Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (London: Penguin, 1989) p.246