Testing the Theory of Collective Action
Mancur Olson's theory of collective action is tested using pooled cross-sectional and time-series regression analyses of the defense burdens (military expenditures/gross domestic product) of fifteen NATO countries for the years 1950-1984. The influence of four factors is assessed: relative economic size, the intensity of the Cold War, the pursuit of private benefits by three countries in exceptional circumstances, and increased cooperation among the European allies. The results indicate that the alliance is still best characterized as a uniquely privileged group seeking a relatively pure public good: collective security through deterrence. Disaggregated analyses show that, consistent with this conclusion, the United States and its allies differ in theoretically predictable ways not only in the magnitude of their defense burdens but in the influences that shape their military allocations.
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