Political Economy of Alliances

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 makes two contributions to our understanding of how military alliance pacts are connected to economic issues: (1) identify the effectiveness of states choosing to directly and explicitly link economic cooperation to security cooperation, and (2) unveil 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.



Linking Economic Cooperation to Security Cooperation


My doctoral dissertation shed new empirical insights into how economic cooperation enhances security cooperation. I showed that economic cooperation bolsters the credibility of an alliance commitment and showed that offers of economic cooperation could secure military cooperation in the first place. Besides contributing to the literature on the political economy of alliances, this research also brought new insights into how we understand ``issue linkage''. Issue linkage is when states decide to include two or more unrelated issues in a single agreement. Issue linkage has commonly been viewed as a mechanism by which states can achieve "cooperation under anarchy." The logic is that including multiple issues in a single agreement -- thereby providing "something for everyone'' -- makes all the parties willing to sign on and adhere to an agreement.  Though the concept of ``issue linkage’’ has a long literature, its effectiveness lacked empirical support. This is why the dissertation was titled "Issue Linkages and International Cooperation: An Empirical Evaluation"


The first half of the dissertation sought to determine if linking issues raised the probability of agreement substantially (perhaps by 25 percentage points), marginally (perhaps by 1 percentage point), or not at all.  I used the inclusion of trade cooperation provisions in military alliance treaties as a means of gaining empirical leverage on this question, as trade cooperation and military cooperation are two issues that are clearly separable (meaning states can and have negotiated agreements on just trade, or on just alliances).  I collected new data on failed alliance treaty negotiations and identified whether those negotiations witnessed trade cooperation offers. After combining my data on failed negotiations with existing data on when states have formed alliance treaties, I used matching techniques to estimate that offers of issue linkage raised the probability of agreement by over 30 percentage points.  


The second half of the dissertation sought to determine if linking issues enhanced the credibility of and compliance with treaty obligations. I did this by focusing on the alliance relations of buffer states.  Buffer states are states located between two recently or currently warring rivals, such as Poland during the 1920s and 1930s. The alliance relations of buffer states create a "hard case" for treaty compliance.  This is because buffer states are especially prone to invasion and occupation, thereby making other states reluctant to remain committed to an alliance agreement with the buffer state. Hence, if economic linkage provisions can enhance the credibility of alliance commitments for buffer states, then linkage provisions should improve treaty compliance in nearly any context. I find that buffer states in alliances with trade provisions experience fewer opportunistic violations of the alliance terms, avoid occupation and invasion at a higher rate, and experience fewer third party attacks than buffer states in other alliance arrangements.


The dissertation was published as a series of papers, including in International Organization and the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and received the 2012 Walter Isard Best Dissertation Prize from the Peace Science Society. The policy implications of this research are highlighted here.



Arms or Allies?


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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