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"Preventing Enemy Coalitions: How Wedge Strategies Shape Power Politics"

(R-L) Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, General Secretary of the Communist Party Josef Stalin, & German Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signing the German-Soviet non-aggression pact in Moscow, Aug 23, 1939.
AP Photo

"Preventing Enemy Coalitions: How Wedge Strategies Shape Power Politics"

Journal Article, International Security, volume 35, issue 4, pages 155-189

Spring 2011

Author: Timothy Crawford, Former Associate, International Security Program, 2006-2009

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Quarterly Journal: International Security



States use wedge strategies to prevent hostile alliances from forming or to dis­perse those that have formed. These strategies can cause power alignments that are otherwise unlikely to occur, and thus have significant consequences for international politics. How do such strategies work and what conditions promote their success? The wedge strategies that are likely to have significant effects use selective accommodation—concessions, compensations, and other inducements—to detach and neutralize potential adversaries. These kinds of strategies play important roles in the statecraft of both defensive and offensive powers. Defenders use selective accommodation to balance against a primary threat by neutralizing lesser ones that might ally with it. Expansionists use se­lective accommodation to prevent or break up blocking coalitions, isolating opposing states by inducing potential balancers to buck-pass, bandwagon, or hide. Two cases—Great Britain’s defensive attempts to accommodate Italy in the late 1930s and Germany’s offensive efforts to accommodate the Soviet Union in 1939—help to demonstrate these arguments. By paying attention to these dynamics, international relations scholars can better understand how balancing works in specific cases, how it manifests more broadly in interna­tional politics, and why it sometimes fails in situations where it ought to work well.


For more information about this publication please contact the IS Editorial Assistant at 617-495-1914.

For Academic Citation:

Crawford, Timothy W. "Preventing Enemy Coalitions: How Wedge Strategies Shape Power Politics." International Security 35, no. 4 (Spring 2011): 155-189.

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