Security Studies Program Seminar
Assistant Professor, Boston College
11 April 2007
Questions Motivating Inquiry:
How do I know a wedge strategy in action when I see it?
There's lots of advice out there telling you to split alliances, but what else does IR theory tell us?
Arguably one of the preludes to the 2003 Iraq War was Saddam Hussein's ability to breakup the 1991 Coalition and thus presage a failure of deterrence.
Equally, how might China fracture US alliances in Asia?
DEFINITION – A wedge strategy seeks to divide opposing alliances, or to prevent them from forming; the content of a wedge strategy should involve a “biased accommodation,” i.e. skewing of promises/rewards to encourage one opposing party to defect.
Notably, they are not 1) confronting adversaries with uniform pressure (that constitutes “toughness” or “bullying”), 2) alignment change via regime change in one of the opponents (that's subversion), or 3) military defeating adversaries in sequence.
An offensive wedge strategy is where a revisionist state tries to split two status quo powers from each other to make cheap gains, while a defensive wedge strategy is employed by a status quo power to fracture a revisionist alliance to focus capabilities on the more threatening challenger.
Ways to Classify Wedge Strategies:
Positive vs. Negative Alignment Goals = recruit vs. neutralize states
Preventive vs. Reactive = prevent opposing coalition formation vs. undermine existing coalition
You thus get a typology of wedge strategies:
Neutrality Reinforcing Strategy (Preventive + Negative) = prevent threatening alliances from forming by increasing incentives for potential adversaries to stay on the sidelines
De-Alignment Strategy (Reactive and Negative) = convert an existing adversary into a neutral
Realignment (Reactive + Positive) = take an adversary's ally, cause it to defect, bring it onto your own side, and now you BOTH stand against the adversary
Preclusive (Preventive + Positive) = convert a neutral into an ally
Conducive Conditions/Wedge Issues:
--It is clear, though, that conceptions of identity create such cleavages that you can play countries off one another by exploiting said fissures
Tradeoffs and Perverse Consequences
Rapporteur: Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2007