Dynamics of International Alliances in an Unbalanced World Structure

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-1-34-48

I. Istomin (iaistomin@gmail.com), 
Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Russian Federation (MGIMO University), Vernadskogo Prosp., 76, Moscow 119454, Russian Federation;
A. Baikov (a.baykov@inno.mgimo.ru), 
Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Russian Federation (MGIMO University), Vernadskogo Prosp., 76, Moscow 119454, Russian Federation; 
“International Trends”, Vernadskogo Prosp., 76, Moscow 119454, Russian Federation 

Acknowledgements. The article has been supported by a grant of the Russian Science Foundation. Project 17-78-20170.

Abstract. Interstate military alliances have long been in the lens of theoretical and empirical research of international relations scholars. The classical view of alliances treated them as a tool for balancing amongst roughly equal players in a multi-polar anarchical environment. Meanwhile, the practice of international relations at least from the second half of the 20th century testifies to the rise of asymmetrical alliances as a new major type of military-political institutions. In such formations, a hegemon, characterized by an overwhelming preponderance in terms of its aggregate material (primarily military) capability cooperates with one or several largely inferior players from the standpoint of their comprehensive power. Traditional balancing theories are not in a position to satisfactorily account for the motivation and dynamics of the parties’ behavior in alliances of this type. In the present study, based on an analysis of voting data in the UN GA and on the record of supporting U.S. actions against both Iraq in 2003 and ISIS in 2014–2017, the authors offer their theoretical explanation of the logic of participants’ conduct in asymmetric alliances. They hypothesize and evidence that in exchange for military security guarantees, small and middle countries provide legitimization of unpopular foreign policy actions of the hegemon. The exchange of different types of goods represent the second type of asymmetry in the studied institutions. There is also a third dimension to it: whereas commitments of major powers are formally recognized in alliance establishing agreements, political obligations of its weaker partners remain mostly informal. However, this lack of legal expression of the allegiance to the hegemon could, the authors argue, turn out in the latter’s own interests, as it increases the legitimating effect of support from the allies. In addition, a side effect of building a global client network of junior partners is the cementation of hierarchic structures under the patronage of the United States. The latter is an attempt by Washington to limit and ultimately transcend both the anarchic nature of the international environment and the ensuing low predictability of the global security environment.

Keywords: The United States, military-political alliances, the „axis and spokes“ system, the war in Iraq, the fight against ISIS, international hierarchies 


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For citation:
Istomin I., Baykov A. Dynamics of International Alliances in an Unbalanced World Structure. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2019, vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 34-48. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-1-34-48

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