"Arguing About Alliances"


Military alliances aren't just formed -- the terms of the treaty underpinning the alliance have to be negotiated.  What conditions explain when states will end these negotiations with a signed treaty? While scholars often think of the successful negotiations (such as those that created the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949), these negotiations can end with the states walking away without a signed treaty. Indeed, some of these failures had large historical consequences (such as the failed 1901 Anglo-German negotiations or the failed 1939 British-French-Soviet negotiations).


I argue that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires thinking of alliance treaty negotiations as discussions over joint war plans. States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with ``highly compatible'' ideal war plans. In particular, the states must have compatible visions regarding the "high-level" components of the war plan: the target of the alliance and the general approach (offensive or defensive) to using force agains the target.


I empirically evaluate this argument with an assortment of quantitative and qualitative evidence on alliance treaty negotiations prior to 1950. Quantitatively, I take data on failed alliance treaty negotiations (which I originally collected as part of my dissertation) and combine it with data from the Alliance Treaty Obligation and Provision database, the HERO battlelevel database, and other sources. Qualitatively, I use my argument to offer new insights into the failure of Britain and Germany to sign an alliance treaty in 1901, and to explain the successful completion of the negotiations that created the North Atlantic Treaty (which founded NATO) in 1948-49.  


This argument bridges research on alliance formation and intra-alliance relations by showing how states must address ally management issues prior to signing an alliance treaty. Just as Organizing Democracy encourages scholars to think anew about the efficiency arguments for IO creation, this work helps renew interest in alliances as instruments of war planning that enhance the interoperability of coalitional forces.  Also, by having the failure of negotiations as a central component, this research highlights the insights scholars can gain by exploring the "dogs that didn't bark", meaning looking at cases where an outcome was attempted but failed to materialize. The book manuscript is forthcoming with Cornell University Press.