Arms or Allies

A prominent topic in the political economy of security is the political economy of alliances.  A political-economic perspective on alliances is most famously attributed to Hedley Bull and Zeckhauser and Olson, who delved into claims of "free-riding" within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (i.e. that the United States was contributing a disproportionate amount of resources towards the alliances). My own research  unveils the conditions under which a state trades “allies” for “arms”, meaning the decision to acquire an ally influences the resources the states dedicates towards arms.


In a series of co-authored papers, I engage the literature on the relationship between arms and allies. Realist scholars have long identified "internal balancing" (via arms) and "external balancing" (via allies) as the two core ways that states can oppose a threat. Building on this view, a rich literature seeks to identify the conditions under which arms and allies are substitutes, complements, or a bit of both. Given that research on the ``arms versus allies'' tradeoff directly links the political economy of arms with the political economy of acquiring allies, exploring this topic was a natural extension of my existing research.


My research in this area elucidates the conditions for when states choose security via their own arms, security via the assistance of an ally, or security using both means. In one coauthored piece, I argue that since democracies are perceived as more reliable allies than autocracies, states are more likely to reduce military expenditures after forming an alliance with a democracy than with an autocracy.  This paper is forthcoming in The British Journal of Political Science.


In another co-authored piece, I argue that adopting conscription should ease the ability of a state to form an alliance. Adopting conscription signals a willingness to incur domestic political costs for the sake of security. Hence, other states will perceive the state with conscription as more likely to “carry its share” of the defense burden.  In this way, conscription is a form of “arms” that complements the acquisition of “allies”. Our empirical analysis supports this argument and the paper was recently published in The Journal of Conflict Resolution.

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