The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence

  • Published

The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence edited by Daniel W. Drezner, Henry Farrell, and Abraham L. Newman. Brookings Institution Press, 2021, 351 pp. 

The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence (WI) by Daniel W. Drezner, Henry Farrell, and Abraham L. Newman explore and add to a 2019 paper by Farrel and Newman titled, “Weaponized Interdependence: How Global Economic Networks Shape State Coercion.” This review will attempt to clarify the weaponized interdependence (WI) definition versus the diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) model, summarize the WI theory, examine the difference domains and provided examples, identify some liberties taken by the editors, and provide an additional perspective for consideration.

WI is defined by this volume as leveraging a position within a network to gain a powerful advantage. The traditional foreign policy influence DIME model attempts to leverage hegemony to achieve national objectives. Hegemony seeks to create a consensus or buy-in from the participants while making take time to produce, obtains the greatest results.

Where WI differs from D.I.M.E. is that the WI efforts focus on networks rather than access to domestic services or production and leverages fear to achieve short-term national objectives. Fear obtains quick results, only to the minimal demanded by the aggressor, and creates roadblocks for future actions. Using or even threating to use WI takes the path of fear and encourages everyone to find ways to insulate themselves against such tactics. This WI definition is not plainly stated until the final chapter but takes shape through the volume. Comparing WI to DIME establishes the definition and helps when discussing the working theory and implementation.

The WI theory is that networks of interdependence can be utilized by a member of the network to gain benefits by leveraging the interdependencies of the network. There are a few conditions that must be in place for WI to be utilized. The aggressor must have physical control or legal jurisdiction over the network or key portions of the network as well as an institution and norm by which to exercise that control. One form of leverage could be the ability to exclusively collection information, called panopticon, after a concept that all parts of the interior can be seen from a central point. Allowing a central node member to take actions based off information flowing through that node to position their state for changes before others are aware.

Members who sit at a choke-point node can also leverage the network via restricting access or threatening to do so. It appears that only powerful countries are positioned to exploit WI; however, a whole section in the volume is dedicated to instances where even weak states or smaller nodes have opportunities to weaponize network interdependence for their benefit. Each section of the volume attempts, with varying success, to provide WI examples across multiple domains and various networks.

WI examples span the domains of finance, technology, energy, and state-owned networks. The volume observed that a network must start out serving the good of the participants without alterative motives, or no one is likely to join and those that do will likely insulate themselves to prevent or lessen impacts of any WI attempts. The communication platform within the financial domain provides the clearest network of interdependence that was leveraged in an example of WI employment. WI impacts the other domains to various degrees, but they almost all come back to the financial network. Several of the examples closely resemble the traditional DIME model and appear to be stretched to fit WI. As discussed in the volume, caution should be taken in further analysis to avoid merging the two and losing the potency of the WI premise. Aside from the word of caution, the editors took some liberties to make the examples fit the WI premise.

The editors took various liberties to explore the WI premise. They selected information in some examples to support the position, excluding any information that was counter to the perspective presented. There were opinions of editors and third-party writers that were expressed as fact. The most blatant example of these liberties was the one using America’s southern border issue from 2016–20, and the editors choosing a label that fit their narrative.

It is evident the available data and focus is US-centric based on the examples used and perspectives presented. Still, several editors appeared to lean toward painting the United States as the aggressor while portraying the other nation as a victim. The example of the Iran nuclear issue was discussed as if Iran was following all the rules and the United States was being a bully. United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency reports indicated Iran was violating the agreement and WI provided the United States another tool short of kinetic actions. Another liberty the editors took was to theorize that WI could be utilized to force social issues ignoring the volumes discussion of the negative affects when WI was used to force actions the victim did not want to take. Using liberties to fit scenarios to the narratives, the editors overlooked the possibility of WI in force escalation.

In discussing WI, a perspective that appeared to be overlooked is the escalation of force matrix. A nation has multiple ways to influence or coerce others to achieve foreign policy commonly known as DIME. Of the traditional DIME. models, the military is often viewed as the last resort due to the implication of kinetic conflict. By having a WI leverage point, this potentially gives a country one more tool, one more step before kinetic conflict. An example of this was provided in the volume when examining the Iran nuclear situation. The United States utilized WI rather than taking kinetic actions in the attempt to coerce Iran into compliance with the terms of the agreement.

This The Uses and Abuses of Weaponized Interdependence review explored examples, identified liberties taken, and added another perspective. The concept of developing a network that becomes entwined in everyday global life while retaining enough central nodes and influence so access can be leveraged in pursuit of national policy achievement is intriguing and worth further analysis.

Captain Nathaniel Ewing, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."