NATO and Alliance Negotiations

Exploring the political economy of alliances naturally led me to dive deeper into the politics of military alliance treaties.  In particular, I wanted to better understand the most prominent alliance formed since 1945 (and the target for much of the political economy of alliances literature): the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In turn, this led me to explore questions regarding military alliances more generally.



Of particular note is my book Arguing About Alliances, forthcoming with Cornell University Press. The book explores the negotiation of military alliance treaties. While scholars often think of successfully negotiated alliance treaties (such as the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949), history is replete with instances of alliance treaty negotiations ending without an agreement (such as the 1901 Anglo-German negotiations or the 1939 British-French-Soviet negotiations). What conditions explain when states will end these negotiations with a signed treaty or instead walk away empty handed?


I argue that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires conceptualizing alliance treaty negotiations as discussions over joint war plans. While the plans may not appear in the treaty text, they are a core point of discussion during the negotiations.  States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with ``highly compatible'' ideal war plans. This means the states have similar (if not identical) views regarding two "high-level" components of a war plan: (1) the target of the alliance, and (2) the general approach (offensive or defensive) to applying force against the target.


For example, suppose two states enter an alliance treaty negotiation. The two states enter the negotiation with ``highly compatible’’ ideal war plans, if, for instance, both states enter the negotiations (1) viewing Russia as the primary threat, and (2) viewing the invasion of Russian territory as the best approach to handling Russia in a crisis.  In this case, agreement is likely to be reached. But if the parties diverge on a key ``high-level’’ component of the war plan (perhaps differing views on the primary threat to be countered by the alliance), then reaching agreement is more difficult.  


Agreement can still be reached when the parties do not have ``highly compatible’’ ideal war plans, but it now depends on whether the parties have attractive outside options.  These outside options include an alternative ally, the ability to take unilateral action, or even a willingness to "buck-pass" (i.e. not taking action to deter a threat).  The more attractive the outside option for a party, the less wiling is that party to make compromises that will facilitate agreement. In this situation, nonagreement becomes possible, perhaps even likely.


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 battle-level 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 book renews 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 of the book, 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.

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