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Causing Crisis Works

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Published in Foreign Policy

In recent weeks, international politics has been roiled by a cascade of emergencies. North Korea carried out seven missile tests in January, more than in any other single month on record. Russia has massed well over 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, leading to acute fears of an imminent invasion. Just next door, in Belarus, would-be asylum-seekers eager to cross into the European Union continue to languish along the country’s borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia as a result of a state-orchestrated migration emergency.

At first glance, these three crises may appear strategically and geographically disconnected. There is, however, a common thread running through these ongoing developments: In all three cases, relatively weak actors have intentionally manufactured crises that have seized the attention of their much more powerful counterparts in the West. This is unlikely to be an accident.

Why would states take such seemingly irrational steps as serial missile tests and military escalation that risk antagonizing much more powerful states and triggering punishing retaliation?

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