#act power thursdays: Weaponising interdependence – the case of Russia

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The Coercion map – economic warfare, from ECFR article on connectivity wars

This week on my blog tries to get a handle on the nature of power in the 21st century by thinking the world as a complex, inderdependent system. How to bring power to bear in such a strategic environment? Mark Leonard at the European Council of Foreign Relations introduces us to “connectivity wars” – how different countries use what he calls the “interconnected infrastructure of the global economy” – trade and investment, international law, the internet, transport links, and
the movement of people – as a weapon to reach their goals
.

Here is how Leonard describes the Russian Federation’s attempts at weaponising interdependence, by creating or threatening disruption:

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Are “connectivity wars” a distinctly 21st century-form of confrontation? Weaponisation of trade relations, international
institutions, and of infrastructure can hardly be considered a new
phenomenon. Interdependence, as we have seen from yesterday’s post
has always been about exploiting asymmetric interdependencies to one’s
advantage.

Then and now, using interdependence as a weapon threatening or creating  permanent disruption seems to be a tactical weapon as part of an arsenal, rather than a strategic approach. Very few countries, such as North Korea might use it as their signature long-term strategy for survival.
And is it really disruption that is tearing down the existing institutional framework of the international system? Rather, it appears that with the US’ unipolar moment come and gone, those institutions are being contested by rival powers such as Russia and China – attempts are indeed made to replace them with competing alternatives, or at least with some fall-back options.

What is new is the connected nature of the economy and society, which makes them vulnerable to
disruptions. But whether that hands power to the people, as Leonard puts it, seems doubtful. For the time being, both democratic and autocratic governments seem to resist protest campaigns quite well – democracies by ignoring them, and autocracies by controlling and shutting them down. But “hacking, public boycotts and disinvestment campaigns – whether
autonomous or staged by governments – are becoming more common, more
effective, and take less time and less resources to stand up” – at least when targeting private sector actors.

It appears that to counter such weaponising of interdependence, good old statecraft is still the answer, as it was 40 years ago. That means thinking and acting in terms of power taking interdependencies into account, and acting accordingly.

Further reading:

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To read the full report, click here.

Johanna M

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