The Changing Dynamics of Alliance Politics in the Emergent Century

Prof. Dr. Tarık OĞUZLU
17 October 2014
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Conventionally speaking, realist IR scholars argue that alliances form when a group of at least two states join forces against common enemies and security threats. While internal balancing refers to individual efforts on the part of each and every state to increase its material power capabilities, external balancing suggests that countries would join forces should they conclude that their unilateral capabilities would not suffice to deter external challengers. A defining characteristic of alliances is that their members commit to the security of each other and promise to come to the aid of those allies which come under external attack.


In the good old days, which means during the Cold War era, it was easy for scholars to capture alliance dynamics. Threats were identified easily and the means to deal with them were quite conspicuous for many observers. From which sources threats would likely emanate and which shapes those threats would take were relatively easy to comprehend. The cohesion of alliances, such as NATO, would further increase should members have inter-subjectively shared beliefs, norms and value systems in common. During those times, alliances would determine coalitions, for it was taken for granted that members of alliances were tied to each other through unbreakable bonds and solid threat perceptions.


Another factor that added up to the alliance cohesion in the good old days was the way security was defined. In line with the realist/neorealist point of view, security was mainly defined in military terms. Analysts were talking about collective defense and security was considered to be divisible. Based on the unbridgeable differences between insiders and outsiders, joining military alliances would not only add up to material security of alliance members, but also help solidify their ideational feelings. For the security of alliance members to be materialized, some outsiders need to be kept separate and if possible to be contained through available means. Alliances were highly resilient and durable. For example, despite the occasional debates within NATO concerning the burden-sharing issue or the appropriate strategy to develop vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, NATO was on solid ground so long as allies shared common threat perceptions and values.


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