Alliance Politics

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).


Much like my research on the political economy of alliances, studying alliance politics is an excellent window through which to explore broader issues in international politics.  These broader issues include the creation of treaties, the role of international organizations in international politics, and how states achieve cooperation under anarchy. Indeed, this was exactly the point made by Olson and Zeckhauser (1966, 266) in their classic work on alliances: they explicitly state at the beginning of their piece that they are using NATO to explore concepts applicable to international organizations in general.  


In two books, I make a number of conceptual, theoretical, and empirical contributions to our understanding of alliances, and international institutions more generally. I now describe the content and contributions of each book.



"Organizing Democracy"


The first book is Organizing Democracy, published by University of Chicago Press in the Chicago Series on International and Domestic Institutions. The book explores the well established relationship between fledgling democracies and international organizations. Using the Baltic states' accession to NATO as a motivating example (and as a core case), Johannes Urpelainen and I unpack the mechanisms that explain why states experiencing democratic transition also appear to seek international organization (IO) membership. Exploring this issue through the lens of NATO's post-Cold War expansion is especially salient since some scholars questioned the ability of NATO to adequately support new democracies or even the continued existence and utility of NATO following the Cold War. 


We claim that leaders of transitional democracies often seek the support of new IOs to provide the public goods and technical expertise needed to consolidate democratic institutions. Our argument is based on leaders in new democracies facing two conundrums.


First, though leaders of newly democratic states need to provide public goods in order to appease an expanded electorate, they lack the domestic institutions, bureaucracy, technical expertise, and resources necessary to provide those public goods. Stated simply, they need help organizing their democracy.  Leaders seek IO membership in order to acquire the "goodies" necessary to organize their democracy, namely the material resources and technical expertise offered by the IO.


Second, though leaders of new democracies desire membership in IOs in order to acquire “goodies”, the existing slate of available IOs might be of little help.  Membership into the most lucrative existing IOs, such as NATO, is initially closed. Additionally, many existing IOs might not be well suited to the particular governance problems facing a new democracy. Hence, membership in existing IOs may not be "feasible" or a good "fit."


How can leaders of new democracies address these two conundrums?  We argue that the leaders of new democracies can craft their own IOs to provide the services most suitable to their specific governance problems. Moreover, while established democracies may prevent the new democracies from joining a lucrative existing IO, established democracies find that supporting the new IO is an efficient means of supporting the new democracies.  With time, the new IOs can also serve as a stepping stone for the democratizing state to gain membership in lucrative existing IOs.


Our work doesn’t claim that IOs are a panacea: democratic backsliding can still take place. Additionally, there is a possibility that the newly created IOs could eventually become "zombies" that continue to exist on paper but no-longer serve a valuable function to the member states.  But during the critical early years of democratization, our work shows that news democracies improve their chances of long term survival if they pursue the strategy of IO creation.


Overall, this book renews interest in the efficiency gains argument for IO creation. Rather than exploring whether IOs "tie hands" of leaders to reforms, IOs are simply reflections of the balance of power, or are a glue for affecting peaceful relations among states, our research attempts to change the conversation by focusing on the (sometimes mundane) benefits leaders actually hope to acquire from IOs.


Some of the research used in this book first appeared in a series of papers, including in World Politics. When writing this book, I also found it useful to draw on some of my coauthored work in comparative political economy.  This work looked at the political survival of democratic leaders (see here), the role of oil in sustaining autocratic regimes (see here), and the steps autocratic rulers take to stay in office (see here). We discuss some of the policy implications of the book here.



"Arguing About Alliances"


The second book is 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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