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The Origins of Alliances


The origins of alliances in the international system might be one of the most important topics we can explore in international relations – why would two states ally, when others are excluded?  What is the motivation behind seeking an alliance?  Is it to deter a threat, divide spoils, enhance power position, etc.?  The answers to these questions will have profound implications for the durability of the world order, the effectiveness of efforts to sustain that order, and would give indications of what would undermine it.  Alliance theory plays a crucial – but often unrecognized – role in grand strategy decisions.  Policymakers have unstated assumptions about why states form alliances that are reflected in their policy prescriptions – flawed assumptions would call those prescriptions into question.  This work makes a significant revision to the concept of “balance of power,” with implications for US grand strategic decisions.

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About the author: Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is the author of The Origins of Alliances, Revolution and War, and Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy.


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