Cornell University Press

Timothy Crawford on Wedge Strategies

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We asked author Timothy Crawford three questions about his new book, The Power to Divide, and his research on wedge strategies used by world powers.

1. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

In April 1939, Hitler began to send feelers to the USSR for an accommodation that would detach it from Britain’s scheme to “encircle” Germany with alliances. Not until late May did British leaders overcome their aversion to direct ties to Moscow and seek a formal Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance. Thus, Hitler believed Britain would seek alliance with the USSR even before British leaders did! When Britain committed to that policy, Germany was already acting to undo it. There’s a concept in IR that nations can “anticipate” others will balance against them and “react” with restraint to avert it. This evinces it and wedge strategy logic too.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Washington faces a big strategic problem (partly of its own making) in today’s growing China-Russia alliance, and to stop or reverse it will require painful trade-offs and compromises. When I started this research—back in the heyday of US primacy and the “Global War on Terror”—I figured that US alliances would be targeted by Russian and Chinese wedge strategies. But it took longer to grasp that the US was getting into the wrong corner of the strategic triangle with Russia and China and that American alliances contributed to the process and made it hard to reverse with wedge strategy.

3. How do you wish you could change your field of study?

I want the field to do more—conceptually, theoretically, and empirically—to understand third-party strategies and dynamics. How third parties try—through direct methods—to advantageously shape relationships among others is the theme of my research on wedge strategies and earlier work on pivotal deterrence. There is much more to be done along such lines and, even more so, on less direct and less intentional patterns of third-party influence on strategic behavior. Here we need both creative theorizing and close study of how leaders recognize and think about these mechanisms, and maneuver to avoid, manipulate, or capitalize on them. 

*Featured photo: Soldiers Embarking Ship during WWI, Melbourne. Credit: Museums Victoria.

Cover image of The Power to Divide.
Read more about this book.

Timothy W. Crawford is Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston College and author of Pivotal Deterrence.

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