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The Origins of Alliance (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801494185
ISBN-10: 0801494184
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The Origins of Alliances offers a different way of thinking about our security and thus about our diplomacy. It ought to be read by anyone with a serious interest in understanding why our foreign policy is so often self-defeating."―New Republic



"A valuable refinement of traditional balance-of-power theory. . . . Walt provides a sophisticated account of recent Middle East diplomacy."―International Affairs

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 (both from Cornell), and Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (September 11, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801494184
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801494185
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,251 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Balance of power theory is one of the basic pillars of (neo)realist theory of international relations. It basically argues that states balance against the rising power since it creates a vital problem for their security. Since states are living in anarchical self-help world they should balance against the rising state(s). In this sense, Stephen M. Walt's The Origins of Alliances challenges this theory. Walt criticizes balance of power theory in arguing that states balance against perceived threats rather than only powers. He examines his theory under the light of the Middle East alliances from 1955 to 1979. His case is composed of thirty-six separate bilateral and multilateral alliance commitments and eighty-six national decisions. After the examination of these alliance structures he argues that balance of threat thesis provides a better grasp on alliance formation in the Middle East than variables of ideology, foreign aid, and political penetration. On the other hand, he holds also geographic proximity, offensive capabilities, and perceived intentions as important elements in alliance politics. Walt also claims that aggregate power (including population, individual and military capabilities, technical prowess), geographic proximity, offensive power, and aggregate intentions all affect the level of threat. Moreover, he observes balancing is more common than bandwagoning behavior in reference to the Middle East alliances in this period.He also states that weak states as compared to strong states are more likely to bandwagon rather than balance against rising powers. In general, Walt's The Origins of Alliances is an important study in demonstrating the role of perceptions in alliance politics and international relations in general well beyond material capabilities and power structures.
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Format: Paperback
Traditional Realist theory argues that states balance against overwhelming power, regardless of a state's intentions. This balance-of-power dictum has been a staple of realist theorists from Hans Morgenthau to Kenneth Waltz and more recently, John Mearsheimer. Stephen Walt however takes a different view. He argues that intentions, in the form of threats, matter as much as raw power. Threats are composed of power, geographic proximity, offensive capabilities, and perceived intentions. Walt believes that threats explain balancing behavior better than power. To support his claim, he uses examples from the Middle East from 1955 to 1979. He finds that the aggressive ideologies of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul Nasser and the Syrian Ba'athists explain balancing behavior against them as much as power considerations do. It's an interesting argument, but the scope and brevity of the examples leave room for refutation. Moreover, Walt deliberately chose the Middle East instead of Europe to test his theory, but it would be more useful if he based his theories on larger powers with better established governments. In fact, the best example of balance of threat explaining state behavior better than balance of power came after this book was first published in 1987. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, according to a straight interpretation of balance of power, the European states, as well as Japan, should have balanced against the overwhelming power of the United States. Indeed, Kenneth Waltz wrote in 1993 that America's unipolar moment would be over "in the blink of an eye." He repeated these claims in 2002. Similarly, Mearsheimer predicted the United States would withdraw its forces from Europe. Yet none of this has come to pass. The United States remains in Europe, despite the rift over the Iraq war.Read more ›
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In my humble opinion, the best book in the realism approach. The book works as a supplement to Watz's and constructs a fine theoretical body for the field.
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