Journal Article - Security Studies

Wedge Strategy, Balancing, and the Deviant Case of Spain, 1940–41

| January-March 2008


Wedge strategies seek to divide alliances or to prevent them from forming. Despite their importance in balance of power politics, they have not received systematic attention in security studies. This article corrects that problem. First, it develops a concept of wedge strategy that connects it to balancing behavior and shows how the phenomenon can help to explain "alignment anomalies" in international politics. Second, it mounts an intensive study of the deviant case of Spanish alignment in 1940–41, demonstrating that a British wedge strategy was a necessary and proximate cause of that alignment anomaly, which was an outcome of great consequences for the conduct and conclusion of the Second World War. It concludes by returning to basic conceptual issues, discussing the implications of thinking theoretically about wedge strategies for two facets of international security: the relationship between appeasement and balancing and the power politics of neutrality.

It is hard to imagine that any British leader in 1940 — let alone Winston Churchill — would venture to appease another Fascist dictator in Europe. But when it came to British relations with Franco's Spain Churchill doggedly pursued a wedge strategy that hinged on offers to reward and accommodate Madrid. And the results were impressive. As Britain faced the Nazi menace alone in 1940–41, Spain's government remained non-belligerent, despite it's ideological affinity and historical debt to the Axis powers, and despite its opportunity to re-claim Gibraltar and parts of Morocco with Nazi help. This surprising outcome was no minor feat, for Spain's non-belligerence in 1940 had enormous implications for the future course and duration of the conflict. The deviant case of Spain in 1940 is thus important not only because leading alliance theories do not explain it, but also because it made a big difference in the biggest war of the 20th century. This article revisits the history of this critical juncture of the war, and sets forth a theoretical framework for understanding the role of wedge strategy in the case, and in international security more generally.

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For Academic Citation: Crawford, Timothy W.. Wedge Strategy, Balancing, and the Deviant Case of Spain, 1940–41.” Security Studies, vol. 17. no. 1. (January-March 2008):