The Origins of Alliances
Stephen M. Walt
Cornell University Press, 1990; Pages: 321
Review © 2001 Branislav L. SlantchevDevelops the balance of threat theory which, unlike traditional balance of power, claims that states do not balance against power, but against threats due to geographical proximity, power, and intentions of others. Finds balancing behavior explains best pattern of alliances in post-WWII Middle East; bandwagonning rare, ideology can have a divisive impact, and foreign aid or penetration do not have independent effect.
- Alliance - formal or informal arrangement for security cooperation between two or more states (p.12). General conclusions: (i) states balance against threats rather than against power alone; (ii) ideology is less powerful than balancing as motive for alignment; (iii) neither foreign aid nor political penetration is by itself a powerful cause of alignment (p.5).
- Alliance Formation:
- Response to threats: states may either balance (ally with others against the prevailing threat), or bandwagon (ally with the source of danger). Sources of threat are: (i) aggregate power; (ii) geographic proximity; (iii) offensive capability; (iv) aggressive intentions (p.25). Although balancing is far more common, bandwagonning tends to occur when (i) the state is weak and cannot add to a defensive coalition but can still incur the wrath of the threatening state; (ii) no allies are available - excessive confidence in allied support will encourage buck-passing; (iii) the outcome of war appears certain - balancing is usual in peacetime (to deter the aggressor) or early stages of war (to defeat him), (p.32).
- Ideology: the more similar the states are, the more they are likely to ally. When ideology calls for members to form a centralized movement, ideology will have a divisive role (p.35). Unifying ideologies that do not prescribe transnational unity under a single leader (liberal states, monarchies) do not pose an ideological threat to one another (p.36). Security considerations are likely to take precedence and ideologically based alliances are not likely to survive when pragmatic interests intrude (p.38).
- Foreign aid: provision of military or economic assistance can create allies because it communicates favorable intentions, evokes gratitude, and the recipient becomes dependent on the donor (p.41). Foreign aid gives suppliers effective leverage when (i) they enjoy a monopoly supply of an important asset; (ii) they are asymmetrically dependent vis-a-vis the recipient; (iii) they have asymmetrical motivation; (iv) they have a decision-making autonomy that can manipulate the level of assistance (p.44).
- Transnational penetration: manipulation of one state's domestic political system by another through (i) public officials with divided loyalties, (ii) lobbying, and (iii) propaganda. Penetration is more effective against open societies, when objectives are limited, and the means are not intrusive (p.49).
History of Middle East Diplomacy (1955-1979)
- From Baghdad Pact to the Six Day War - dominated by three main themes:
(i) repeated failure of Nasser to translate his own charisma and Egypt's
regional stature to permanent hegemony in the Arab world; (ii) steady growth
of superpower commitments in the Middle East; (iii) persistence of the
Arab-Israeli conflict and the inability of the Arab states to form an
alliance against Israel (p.51).
Security environment product of four developments: (i) decline of the British and French imperial orders, (ii) revival of Arab nationalism and aspirations for unity, (iii) establishment of Israel, and (iv) active role of the superpowers (p.52). Phases:
- Baghdad Pact (1955) to Suez Crisis and Sinai War (1956): Iraq's bid for
leadership (the Pact) thwarted by Nasser; Western influence reduced; Egypt
and Syria break Western monopoly on aid by opening ties with Soviet Union;
Israel's victory in the Sinai neutralized; Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and
Yemen in formal alignment with Egypt.
Reasons for Nasser's success: (a) superpower competition that allowed freedom of action for Egypt; (b) Syria and Saudi Arabia fears of the Pact and unpopularity of Western influence brought them into an all-Arab alliance with Egypt; (c) Nasser exploited nationalist beliefs to intimidate the vulnerable Jordan into accepting his leadership (p.66).
Consequences: Nasser's dominant position quickly erodes because his initial success removed several of his advantages: (a) support from the Soviets increased US interest in containing him; (b) his dominance made him the greater threat than Iraq to his neighbors (p.67).
- King's Alliance to the Syrian Crisis (1957): the Eisenhower Doctrine (p.67) encourages Saudi Arabia and Jordan to break the alliance with Egypt and form a counter-alliance between themselves and Iraq; Egypt's bid for dominance in the Arab world thwarted; US pressure on Iraq, Turkey, and Jordan to mobilize against Syria (believed to be ``going Communist'') brings in the Soviets and Egypt, which increases Nasser's popularity (p.70).
- United Arab Republic (1958-1961): union between Egypt and Syria, later joined by Yemen; Jordan and Iraq form a counter Federal Union; Lebanese crisis results in US marines intervention; Egypt-Iraqi rivalry presents dilemma for USSR, which opts for Iraq after its revolution; Iraq pulls away from USSR, also, Quassem's emphasis on national interests dissipates momentum to Arab unity; military coup in Damascus destroys UAR and restores Syrian independence (p.79).
- Yemen Civil War (1962) to the Cairo Summit (1964): Nasser's policy now premised on ideological considerations, attacks on conservative Arab regimes; Egyptian propaganda against secessionist Syrian regime, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq results in Egypt's isolation by 1962; Nasser moves to support republican government in Yemen against royalists to bolster revolutionary goals; Quassem executed in Iraq in 1963; pro-Egyptian coup in Syria; Iraq, Egypt, and Syria form a stillborn Tripartite Unity Agreement, which collapses after Syrian president forced from office and Nasser cancels it; Syria and Iraq draw together, prompting Nasser to initiate a detente with Jordan; unity movement between Syria and Iraq collapses due to Aref abandoning Ba'thist supporters; Cairo summit as response to Israeli water project establishes PLO; Egypt and Iraq adopt less aggressive posture, Syria embarks on ideological extreme (p.87).
- End of Inter-Arab Detente (1965) to the Six Day War (1967): efforts to
settle Yemeni war fail; Saudis convene Islamic conference against Egypt; coup
in Syria demolishes the old Ba'th Party, proclaims radical socialist
platform; Egypt renews propaganda war against Jordan and Saudi Arabia, aligns
with Syria, forced to adopt its extreme revolutionary views; Middle East
effectively divided between the superpowers: (a) USSR with Egypt, Syria,
Iraq, and Yemen; (b) US with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Lebanon
Arab coalition between Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq (with token participation by other Arab states and diplomatic support from USSR) prompts Israeli attack on June 5, which routs the Arab armies in six days; no direct action by the superpowers except Soviet threat to intervene when Israeli forces threatened Damascus, and US response in moving Sixth Fleet closer to Syria to deter the Soviets; UN cease-fire negotiated, USSR breaks diplomatic relations with Israel; Egypt, Syria, and Iraq break with the US (p.102).
- Baghdad Pact (1955) to Suez Crisis and Sinai War (1956): Iraq's bid for leadership (the Pact) thwarted by Nasser; Western influence reduced; Egypt and Syria break Western monopoly on aid by opening ties with Soviet Union; Israel's victory in the Sinai neutralized; Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen in formal alignment with Egypt.
- From the Six Day War to the Camp David Accords - dominated by two main
themes: (i) gradual rise and dramatic decline in Arab collaboration against
Israel, both the result of Egypt's abandoning its quest for hegemony; and
(ii) the increasingly active role played by the superpowers, especially the
US (p.105). Phases:
- The War of Attrition (1969)to the Jordan Crisis (1970): the crushing defeat Egypt and Syria have suffered force them to rely even more heavily on Soviet support; US reacts to Israel success by providing even greater assistance; US relations with Egypt, Syria, and Iraq worse than ever; war between Egypt and Israel begins in October 1968 at Nasser's own initiative, heavy Israeli initial losses lead both USSR and Egypt to hard-line stance; failure of USSR to control Nasser and US to influence Israel; cooperation in Arab world culminates in Eastern Command of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, which dissolves in 1970 amidst Iraqi-Syrian animosity; buck-passing among all Arab states to Egypt; Nasser accepts the Rogers ceasefire in 1970 (p.112). Jordan Crisis begins with crackdown on PLO in Jordan; Israel supports Hussein; Syrian invasion repelled by Jordan on its own (p.114);
- Yom Kippur War (1973) can be traced to three main developments: (i)
failure to reach political solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute; (ii) ability
of Egypt and Israel to obtain increased military support from their
superpower patrons; and (iii) formation of first effective anti-Israeli Arab
Relations between Arabs and Israelis unable to break diplomatic stalemate; Sadat breaks with USSR despite strong military assistance but relations restored by 1973; Moscow hedges its bets with Syria, Iraq, and South Yemen; US increases assistance to Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia; with Nasser's death, Egyptian bid for dominance is over and the way for cooperation cleared; Arab alliance forms in 1973, with Egypt and Syria choosing limited aims, Jordan agreeing to enter when Syria regains the Golan Heights, and Saudi Arabia hinting at using the oil weapon if necessary (p.122).
First phase of war (October 6-10) with Arab tactical and strategic advantage and initial victories; next phase (11-18) with increased superpower involvement to resupply their respective allies; Israel gains the upper hand; the third phase (19-27) with superpowers succeeding in imposing a ceasefire on their clients; even though Egypt and Syria suffer a military defeat, they gain a political victory and break the stalemate (p.124).
- US ascendancy in the Middle East (1974-1979): Egypt gradually abandons USSR, concludes separate peace with Israel; significant growth of US military relations with Israel, and its traditional Arab allies; USSR forced to commit increasing resources to keeping its allies like Syria, South Yemen, and, to a lesser extent, Iraq; civil war in Lebanon with Syrian intervention to assist the government; the creation of the Arab Deterrence Force by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria implicitly endorses this action and realigns the countries by end of 1976; Sadat's peace drive culminates in Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 (result of previous year's Camp David Accords); in response, Syria, Libya, South Yemen, Algeria, and the PLO establish the Front of Steadfastness and Resistance in 1977, which is joined by Jordan and Saudi Arabia next year after the peace treaty is signed; Egypt suspended from the Arab League; Iraq now among the moderates; renewed commitment of US to its regional allies; increasing difficulties for the USSR; role of ideology declines significantly, pan-Arabism wanes, and inter-Arab politics driven more by material interests (p.146).
- Balancing and bandwagonning: (i) external threats are the most frequent cause of alliances; (ii) balancing is far more common than bandwagonning; (iii) superpowers chose partners to balance against each other, and regional powers are indifferent to the global balance but ally in response to threats from other regional powers; (iv) offensive capabilities and intentions increase the likelihood of others joining forces in opposition (p.148). Bandwagonning is more likely when the state is small or does not have useful allies, the decision is based on hope that the threatening power will moderate its aggressive intentions (p.176).
- Ideology: (i) modest association between ideology and alignment, more pronounced between the superpowers and their regional allies, especially in the case of USSR; (ii) observed association exaggerates its impact, ideological agreement between superpowers and regional allies is fairly limited; (iii) certain ideologies a more a source of division than unity (i.e. pan-Arabism vs. monarchical solidarity), (p.181). In general, Arab ideological consistency is readily abandoned when threats to other interests emerge. However, USSR consistently aligned with ``progressive'' states which shared its opposition to Western imperialism, while the US supported the monarchies and democracies (p.183). The tendency of states with similar domestic systems to form alliances is greatest when they are fairly secure, when the ideology does not require that sovereignty be sacrificed, and when a rival movement creates a powerful threat to legitimacy (p.216).
- Foreign aid: efforts to attract allies in the absence of compatible political goals fails; client states serve the patron's interests only when the actions serve their own interests as well. Leverage of patron is reduced because (i) alternative sources always exist, especially in the other superpower; (ii) regional allies viewed as intrinsically valuable in their own right; (iii) providing aid can be self-defeating because in strengthens the recipient and reduces his need to follow advice; (iv) recipients are almost always more interested in the issue and they bargain harder; and (v) domestic constraints prevent the patron from manipulating the level of support (p.240).
- Penetration: (i) efforts to manipulate a state's domestic political system are more likely to generate resistance when they threaten a prospective ally's internal stability; (ii) most of superpower's effort to exploit domestic political forces have been counterproductive; (iii) the influence of pro-Israeli forces on US policy-making is significant because (a) the Jewish community is cohesive, prosperous, and well-educated, (b) its activities are viewed as legitimate interest groups politics, and (c) their objectives are limited and easy to justify in terms of US interests (p.259). Penetration can create effective alliances when it reinforces an existing alignment and does not threaten the political system itself (p.260).
ConclusionBalance of threat theory provides an excellent explanation for the balance of power in the bipolar world. The Soviets are doomed because their geographical size makes them potentially able to control the vast Eurasian resources. This puts them in direct opposition with all their neighboring countries, which regard this as very threatening. On the other hand, the US is separated by two oceans and has had very tolerant relations with its two neighbors. In addition, the military doctrine of the offensive necessitated by the possibility of fighting on more than one front forces the USSR to acquire weaponry that makes it even more threatening. Finally, the Marxist-Leninist support for world revolution makes its intentions more aggressive, which further alienates potential allies. The intra-Communist disputes due to contradictions within the ideology itself weakens the ``bloc'' even further. US should not worry too much about its allies defecting. Being slightly less credible may even be better as it give allies more incentives not to free-ride on US efforts. Because the US does not appear threatening, most countries are predisposed to align with it (p.284).
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