Turkey's threat to cut electricity exports to Syria, part of an effort to pressure the Syrian government to halt its deadly attacks on protestors, illuminates a hidden dynamic of international relations: how aspects of control over territory, at least in a day-to-day operational sense, can quietly slip from one country to another.

Services that collectively allow a nation to function - power, transportation, water, and the like - are often provided today by entities located in other countries. This is the result of two simultaneous trends, privatization and globalization.

If Country A performs enough critical activities in Country B, it could be said to have assumed a degree of control over what happens on Country B's territory without any military or other intervention. As Syria may find to its detriment, aspects of operational control may pass from one country to another when relations are good, and this situation may stay benign for an extended period, but if relations deteriorate it offers the country that has the control a new path for exerting diplomatic pressure.

The implications of this are more than academic. Companies in France, for example, have assumed considerable operational control over services that are essential to keeping the United Kingdom operating. And because France has been reticent to privatize the very activities that Great Britain was quick to sell off, this operational control has an underlying political aspect.

Companies in which the French state has full ownership, controlling interest, or influence through a substantial shareholding are among the largest providers of electric power, telecommunications, passenger rail transportation, and waste collection and treatment in the United Kingdom. What makes this a potentially potent factor in bilateral relations is that Great Britain doesn't have reciprocal clout.

It's hard to imagine in today's context that Paris will ever threaten to pull the plug on London. But if future political differences create tensions, or even if the two countries simply oppose each other on a European Union policy matter that both consider of paramount importance, France has the upper hand with this particular pressure option: it can disrupt the lives of British people and the functioning of the British economy, but the United Kingdom can't do the same to France.

To the extent that the British government is aware of this - it's never said anything about it, so we don't know - the imbalance might be sufficient to act as an unspoken form of influence that France has over the United Kingdom in a more general sense. Certainly for France's overall strength in the world, it provides a strategic justification for continued resistance to the privatization of state activities.

Of course, there's a safety valve: France can't exercise this type of pressure against Great Britain without consequences, since the United Kingdom has other strengths at its disposal. But that may not be the case with Turkey's threat to Syria, and it may not be the case elsewhere.