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Testing theories of alliance formation: the case of Southwest Asia


  • Walt, Stephen M.


The question “what causes alignment?” remains a basic issue in international relations theory. Moreover, competing hypotheses about alliance formation underlie many recurring policy debates. Balance-of-power theory predicts states will ally to oppose the strongest state; the “bandwagoning hypothesis” predicts that alignment with the stronger side is more likely. These two hypotheses are usually framed solely in terms of the distribution of capabilities (that is, the balance of power ), which neglects several other important factors and leads to faulty predictions about alliance choices. A careful examination of the alliance policies of Iran, Turkey, India, and Pakistan reveals that “balance-of-threat theory” provides a better explanation of alliance choices than these other conceptions. This theory predicts that states balance against the most threatening state, rather than the most powerful. Threats are a function of power, geographic proximity, offensive capability, and perceived intentions. Thus, balance-of-threat theory is an important refinement of structural balance- of-power theory.

Suggested Citation

  • Walt, Stephen M., 1988. "Testing theories of alliance formation: the case of Southwest Asia," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(02), pages 275-316, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:42:y:1988:i:02:p:275-316_03

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    Cited by:

    1. Martin Wagener, 2009. "Reliable Kingdom? The USA, Thailand, and the Logic of Bandwagoning," Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 28(3), pages 39-80.
    2. Shenkar Oded & Arikan Ilgaz, 2010. "Business as International Politics: Drawing Insights from Nation-State to Inter-Firm Alliances," Business and Politics, De Gruyter, vol. 11(4), pages 1-33, January.

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