IR - One definition a day: AllianceA formal agreement between two or more actors - usually states - to collaborate together on perceived mutual security issues. By allying themselves together it is anticipated that security will be increased in one, some or all of the following dimensions: by joining an alliance a system of deterrence will be established or strengthened, by joining an alliance a defence pact will operate in the event of a war, by joining an alliance some or all of the actors will be precluded from joining other alliances.
Allies will stipulate in treaty form the conditions under which a military response will be required. At a minimum this collaboration will cover mutual obligations upon the outbreak of hostilities, but collaboration often extends beyond this. Joint military exercises, staff training and weapons procurement may all be regarded as proper activities under the rubric of 'being allies'. Allies may feel the need to support each other diplomatically in the conduct of their foreign policies. As with any diplomacy, alliances may be secret or open, bilateral or multilateral. It is not difficult to see why, under traditional concepts of state-centrism, alliance diplomacy was regarded as paradigm high politics.
The alliance was a key variable in the balance of power system. States were assumed to blance against a revisionist state or coalition to maintain stability. In this context alliances were contingent, issue-orientated. Waltz (1979) has suggested that an equally plausible dynamic in the balance of power would be for states to 'bandwagon' behind a putative victor rather than balance against it. In a bipolar system, bloc leaders and superpowers will engage in ally-seeking in order to counter perceived threats at the margin or periphery. Since military capabilities are unevenly distributed in bipolar alliances, serious conflicts can occur within the blocs over the scope and domain of bloc leadership and followership. This tendency is often referred to as polycentrism.
In a multipolar system, alliance dynamics are intrinsically more fluid and there may be greater uncertainty and less predictability about foreign policies and alliance dynamics.As Christensen and Snyder (1990) have suggested, under conditions of multipolarity states may either 'chain gang' (rush headlong into hostilities in support of their allies) of 'buck pass' (stand off from hostilities in the expectation or hope that others will not do so). This dilemna is built into multipolarity and - as the authors suggest - non-systemic, perceptual agent-centered considerations may ultimately decide the dilemna.
The twentieth century has seen ally-seeking and alliance construction as typical repertories of state behaviour. The examplaes of 1914 and 1939 have been widerly studies to extrapolate and validate theories about alliances and occurrence of war. The findings seem to be ambivalent as to whether alliances inhibit or encourage states to go to war. The outbreak of the Cold War confirmed many of the bipolar dynamics already referred to. Both the United States and the former Soviet Union found that bloc leadership could not presume bloc followership.
Many saw nuclear weapons as exacerbating these tendencies to centrifugalism. Gaulism was perhaps the most explicit statement of these views. The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union has left the system with 'morning after the night before' remnants of the old bipolar structure. Whilst the Warsaw Pact has now gone, NATO continues to re-invent itself although whether it is still an 'alliance' remains a moot point.
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