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Politics of Alliances and International Institutions

Exploring the political economy of alliances inspired me to investigate the politics of alliances more generally. Much like my research on the political economy of alliances, studying alliance politics is an excellent window through which to explore the broader questions regarding the role of treaties, international organizations, and cooperation under anarchy.

Two issues that are central to the politics of alliances -- and especially the most prominent alliance formed since 1945, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -- have led to their own book length projects.

The first issue is the link between the democracy and international organizations. Given that democratic regimes are perceived as essential for regional stability and internal security, many security organizations are engaged in democracy promotion and assistance. Indeed, democracy protection and assistance is a priority for many alliances in the contemporary world. Using the Baltic states' accession to NATO as a motivating example (and as a core case), Johannes Urpelainen and I explore the general relationship between democratic transitions and 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 of NATO itself.

We claim that leaders of transitional democracies often must draw on the support of international organizations to provide the public goods and technical expertise needed to consolidate democratic institutions. Indeed, democratizing states must frequently craft their own organizations to provide the services most suitable to their specific governance problems. This is because membership to the most lucrative existing IOs, such as NATO, is initially closed to transitional regimes. While established democracies may prevent the new democracies from joining a lucrative existing IO, established democraices find the creation of new IOs to be a efficient means of supporting the new democracies. Eventually, however, the new IOs can serve as a stepping stone for the democratizing state to gain membership in the existing lucrative IOs.

Overall, this book seeks to renew 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.

This research appeared in a series of papers, including in World Politics, and a book manuscript on this project titled Organizing Democracy was published by University of Chicago Press in the Chicago Series on International and Domestic Institutions. This research was assisted by some of my co-authored basic research in comparative political economy that 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 the policy implications of our research here.

The second issue is the condition (or conditions) prompting states to end alliance treaty negotiations in agreement or to walk away without a signed treaty. While scholars often think of the successful negotiations (such as those that created the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949), the course of world politics has also been shaped by the times states tried but failed to reach agreement (such as the 1901 Anglo-German negotiations or the 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. 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.

I empirically evaluate the argument with an assortment of quantitative and qualitative evidence on alliance treaty negotiations prior to 1950. Quantiatively, this project enabled me to take the data I collected on failed alliance treaty negotiation data for my dissertation (discussed under my political economy of alliances research) and use it to explore a different question related to alliance negotiations. 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.

Just as Organizing Democracy should encourage scholars to think anew about the efficiency arguments for IO creation, this work should help renew interest in alliances as intruments 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 complete book manuscript, titled Arguing About Alliances, is presently under review.

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