Subversion As Statecraft: The USA & Russia

Aston Webb Dome Lecture Theatre (A Block)
Thursday 21 November 2019 (13:00-15:00)

In our next IR ST / ICCS joint event, our guest speaker is William Wohlforth. Professor Wohlforth is the Daniel Webster Professor of Government in the Dartmouth College Department of Government. He is the author of Elusive Balance: Power and Perceptions during the Cold War (Cornell, 1993) and editor of Witnesses to the End of the Cold War (Johns Hopkins, 1996) and Cold War Endgame: Oral History, Analysis, and Debates (Penn State, 2003).

External interference in the domestic affairs of states has become a contentious issue in international politics as well as a major topic of academic research. But almost everything scholars know about the subject is based on evidence of powerful states meddling in weak ones. To put the Russia-US case in perspective, to assess Moscow’s counterclaims about American interference in its affairs, to know when a given instance of interference is “unprecedented” or constitutes an “escalation,” to determine whether the new cyber environment has truly altered the strategic landscape of interference, and to be in a position to suggest policy responses, scholars need to know more about how violations of the non-interference principle tend to play out among the states at the top of the global heap. Scholars lack a focused study of subversion among great powers, and therefore no baseline from which to assess current developments. My purpose is to fill that gap in order to help provide better answers than we now have to the key questions swirling around great power subversion. Why do great powers engage in this behaviour and how often do they do so? Is subversion an effective tool of statecraft and if so under what conditions? How important are norms in regulating subversion among great powers as opposed to rational calculations of expected costs and benefits? Are great powers now in a new strategic environment that dramatically alters the playing field for subversion? Are democracies especially vulnerable to subversion, or do more authoritarian states have the most to fear?

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