Dominance, Dependence, and Political Power: Tethering Technology in the 1980s and Today

International Studies Quarterly (1996) 40, 559-588

31 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2012

See all articles by George E. Shambaugh

George E. Shambaugh

Georgetown University - Department of Government; Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS)

Date Written: January 1, 1996


The United States used economic sanctions to secure compliance with its export control policy by states and nonstate actors operating abroad throughout the 1980s. The success and failure of these efforts varied widely and cannot be explained in terms of structural realist or hegemonic leadership arguments, which have often been used to address such questions. This study suggests two ways to explain this variation. The first is to analyze American enforcement efforts using an approach focused on issue- and context-specific power, as suggested by the social power theorists. This approach provides increased precision and explanatory power, but it remains unable to account for failures of American efforts in issue-areas where the United States clearly possessed a preponderance of relevant resources. The second solution is to link control over outcomes to actors' dependence on the United States. Dependence arguments are similar to issue-specific power arguments in that they begin by assessing the distribution of resources between actors. In contrast to them, however, dependence arguments emphasize that the value of these resources is largely determined by factors outside of the particular relationship. Most important, the availability of resources from outside the particular relationship in question can undermine the utility an actor might otherwise derive from an asymmetrical distribution of resources in its favor. For this reason, dependence arguments emphasize that while issue-specific dominance may be necessary, it is not sufficient to secure control over outcomes. Arguments linking dependence to political power remain largely descriptive and underspecified in the international relations literature. Once refined and operationalized, however, dependence arguments can explain counterintuitive outcomes that the others cannot by clarifying the link between the distribution of resources and political power in world politics. Dependence arguments also enable state and nonstate actors to be evaluated within the same framework, which increases the argument's parsimony, and they provide guidelines for the use and analysis of economic sanctions.

Keywords: sanctions, economic statecraft, smart sanctions, smart power

JEL Classification: z00

Suggested Citation

Shambaugh, George E., Dominance, Dependence, and Political Power: Tethering Technology in the 1980s and Today (January 1, 1996). International Studies Quarterly (1996) 40, 559-588, Available at SSRN:

George E. Shambaugh (Contact Author)

Georgetown University - Department of Government ( email )

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Georgetown University - Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS) ( email )

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