The only material domain where the United States still reigns indisputably supreme is in financial power, which rests on the dominance of the US dollar and the centrality of the American economic and financial system to international commerce. Despite its declining share of the world economy, the US has successfully leveraged its structural financial power to assert its dominance in new disruptive ways, such as by treating global access to the American financial system as a set of proprietary nodes. With such clever retooling, the number of foreign actors that Washington has cut off because of proscribed extraterritorial conduct, even if none of that activity touches the United States directly, has been on an annual upward trend since 2001. This seminar will address two concerns arising from the US weaponization of finance: (1) how aggressive use of financial coercion and punishment is incentivizing opponents, such as China, and even US allies, to search for alternative instruments and evasions to limit their vulnerability and increase their autonomy; and (2) how the threat or use of financial swords as a powerful alternative to military engagement can create under-explored risks of escalation. It draws on recent publications and work in progress.
Cynthia Roberts (Ph.D. Columbia) is a Professor of Political Science at Hunter College, City University of New York and a research scholar and adjunct professor at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University. In 2019, with support from a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship, she is working at the Joint Staff, in J5, Strategy, Plans and Policy. Her most recent book, The BRICS and Collective Financial Statecraft (co-authored with L. Armijo and S. Katada) was published by Oxford University Press in 2018 and will come out in a Chinese edition in 2020. Her research spans the military and financial statecraft of great powers, and challenging the expectation of integrated policy of autocratic regimes.