The Origins of Alliances

By Phar Kim Beng
Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena
Twitter: @indo_pan

— — —

How do states form their alliances, and when do they abandon them if at all? Stephen M Walt began this book by asking how do states “make friends”? Indeed, when faced with a turbulent world, marked by diffused threats after the end of the Cold War, how do they tell friends and enemies apart? Through such questions and formulations, Stephen M Walt, now a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, arrived at the theory of “balance of threat”.

In other words, great powers or small ones alike, are most afraid of losing their security, freedom, sovereignty, and the strategic leeway to behave and exploit various resources as they please. The moment they sense that another country is rising on the horizon to prevent such absolute freedom of action, states will begin the formative phases of forming alliances and informal ones to balance the emergent threat, whether perceived or real.

In this sense, states are deemed to be fragile, sensitive and almost delicate creatures, albeit entities that are driven by a ceaseless cycle of fear. Instead of becoming power-maximizers, to cause their own security, states’ actual ballast and trajectory, according to Stephen M Walt, are driven by fear of isolation, abandonment, domination and betrayal. They seek security in numbers; even if this formation will ultimately trigger a security dilemma which they so crave to avoid. “The Origins of Alliances” is written in the plural to suggest any number of negative motivators to trigger the timely or untimely formation of an alliance. Alliances are formed to protect the erosion of sovereignty, regardless of space and time constraint.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store