#learn power wednesdays: Complex interdependence


In our week on thinking the world as a complex collection of inter-related systems, let’s explore a seminal book, Power and Interdependence published in 1977 by Robert 0. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr, proponents of liberal IR theory.

In it, they posited that advanced economies lived in a state of complex interdependence. In contrast to realist thinkers, they
wanted to account for an increasingly complex international system where cooperation and confrontation was both possible, and where economic power had become a trump card next to military power.
How well do their premises hold up in our interdependent, yet hyper-competitive and conflictual world?

For the liberal school of international relations, states are not the only actors in international
politics. It stresses the importance of transnational actors and international regimes, of domestic
politics, and of policy areas other than military affairs.

Keohane and Nye argued that under conditions of complex
interdependence, international relations could become more cooperative than realists would assume. But power would not disappear from the equation, far from it. States would try to benefit from international exchange while attempting to maintain as much room for manoeuvre as possible. Transnational actors such as
NGOS and international firms
would pursue their own separate goals, and international organisations would serve as platforms for states to exercise influence. As we have seen in last #learn power wednesdays post,
institutions organising co-operation represent structural power, power
that a dominant country uses to set the rules of the game.

Where does power come in under such a scenario? Keohane and Nye coined the concept of asymmetrical interdependence as a power resource. Power is shifting, and depends on a state’s bargaining power in different policy fields.

Almost forty years later, Power and Interdependence remains a very useful framework to look at today’s international politics. Economic globalisation and advances in military technology have led to
ever greater global geopolitical and strategic interconnectivity. It is those actors that play their cards well, i.e., that know how to use power asymmetries to their advantage that bring power to bear.

Further reading:

Power and Interdependence Revisited. Power and Interdependence by Robert O. Keohane; Joseph S. Nye, International Organization, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 725-753


Johanna M

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