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Walt: The origins of alliances

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Walt. 1987. The origins of alliances. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

A common neorealist argument is that states balance against power. Walt changes this, arguing that states balance against threats (defined not only by power, but also proximity and intentions). He also argues against two other prominent hypotheses (namely, that foreign aid or foreign penetration/influence make alliances more likely) and he argues that another prominent hypothesis (that ideology matters) has far less influence than we might think.

A central task is to explain why states sometimes balance and why they sometimes bandwagon. Walt notes that balancing is far more common, but points out that bandwagoning does become likely under certain conditions (e.g. when one state is much weaker [i.e. as a form of appeasement], or if no allies are available, or if the war is already in progress).

Walt also explores the different implications of balancing and bandwagoning. An interesting one: credibility. Walt argues that balancing alliances will have natural credibility (since each state joins out of self-interest--to defend itself), but bandwagoning alliances will require costly actions to make commitments credible (i.e. for the larger state to credibly commit not to turn on its partner). So information and credibility are not importance concepts in a balancing world. Interesting. See Morrow 1999 and Fearon 1998, in particular.

Research on similar subjects


Walt, Stephen (author)International RelationsAlliancesCredible CommitmentBalance of Power

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