“Weaponized Interdependence” and the Future of International Relations

For much of the 1990s and 2000s the prevailing theory about globalization was that the ever tightening integration of economies around the world was both largely benign and would reduce conflict among nations.  Globalization was also presumed to have a flattening effect;  power in a globalized world would be more diffuse and less centralized around just one or two actors.

In a groundbreaking 2019 academic paper published in the journal International Security Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman push back against that idea. In the paper “Weaponized Interdependence” they show how the process of economic integration — the networking of the word — in fact created centralized hubs around which power is concentrated. The country that controls those hubs can exploit its position to pursue its foreign policy goals.

In practice, the authors show how the United States has used its central position in the global financial system and in the architecture of the Internet to compel foreign adversaries.  Their paper offers a new lens with which to understand globalization and geo-politics and was so well received that it was turned into a book, published in February, in which several authors build upon the theory.

The co-editor of the new book The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence  is Daniel Drezner. He is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a contributing editor at The Washington Post. We kick with a few key definitions, including what we mean by “weaponized interdependence” and then discuss how this concept has been applied in practice, principally by the United States and what this means for potential great power competition between the United States and China.

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