Complex interdependence turned around

An interesting analysis in one of the Dutch quality papers today. The analysis was about Russia’s power politics, and especially how it used all kinds of formal and informal tactics in different areas, for example traditional diplomatic canals, covert military action, media, energy politics, espionage, et cetera. Special attention was drawn to the economic aspect. Not so much the economic sanctions, which are mainly making life more expensive for the Russian population, are a nuisance to the people in power, yet lack any pacifying effect.

More interesting was the point that the entanglement between the Russian en European economies actually allows the Russian leaders to be more belligerent, and to make use of the Ukraine crisis to prolong the life of their rule. This is due to the fear of Western governments to lose Russian investments, gas supplies and capital. President Putin and his followers know this too well, and are therefore prepared to take more risks in the Ukraine crisis. Sure there are other factors important as well, yet this economic factor is significant in their power game.

For liberal theory in international relations this is complex interdependence turned around. In 1978 Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye published their influential book Power and Interdependence, which focused on the importance of the multiple ways societies and countries are interconnected. Although a lot can, and has been, said about their analysis, as well as the broader discussion following the book, many liberals read the book as a confirmation of their belief in the pacifying effects of economic interdependence. However, this was not the actual position of Keohane and Nye, who emphasized that interdependence would not necessarily lead to international cooperation, nor did they assume any other automatic benign effects (see page 249 of the second edition, 1989).

If anything, the current situation in the crisis between Russia, Ukraine and the West shows the truth of these careful theoretical remarks. The political effect of economic ties is not automatically benign or peace enhancing.