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Arguing About Alliances

NATO Signing.jpg

My book Arguing About Alliances: The Art of Agreement in Military-Pact Negotiations was published in 2019 by Cornell University Press and the co-winner of the 2020 Lepgold Prize.


Read this Chicago Council "Global Insights" post based on material from the book or listen to me describe the book's content (and writing process) on the "Military History Inside Out" podcast.


Book Description

Military alliances aren't just formed -- the terms of the treaty underpinning the alliance have to be negotiated.  What conditions explain when states will end these negotiations with a signed treaty? While scholars often think of the successful negotiations (such as those that created the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949), these negotiations can end with the states walking away without a signed treaty. Indeed, some of these failures had large historical consequences (such as the failed 1901 Anglo-German negotiations or the failed 1939 British-French-Soviet negotiations).


I argue that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires thinking of alliance treaty negotiations as discussions over joint war plans. States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with ``highly compatible'' ideal war plans. In particular, the states must have compatible visions regarding the "high-level" components of the war plan: the target of the alliance and the general approach (offensive or defensive) to using force against the target.


I empirically evaluate this argument with an assortment of quantitative and qualitative evidence on alliance treaty negotiations prior to 1950. Quantitatively, I take data on failed alliance treaty negotiations (which I originally collected as part of my dissertation) and combine it with data from the Alliance Treaty Obligation and Provision database, the HERO battlelevel database, and other sources. Qualitatively, I use my argument to offer new insights into the failure of Britain and Germany to sign an alliance treaty in 1901, and to explain the successful completion of the negotiations that created the North Atlantic Treaty (which founded NATO) in 1948-49.  


This argument bridges research on alliance formation and intra-alliance relations by showing how states must address ally management issues prior to signing an alliance treaty. Just as Organizing Democracy encourages scholars to think anew about the efficiency arguments for IO creation, this work helps renew interest in alliances as instruments of war planning that enhance the interoperability of coalitional forces.  Also, by having the failure of negotiations as a central component, this research highlights the insights scholars can gain by exploring the "dogs that didn't bark

Blurbs and Reviews

"Arguing about Alliances makes an essential arugment for the need to understand the context within which alliances are negotiated and moves the literature forward."

-- Mark J.C. Crescenzi, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

"Paul Poast shows how the study of international alliances and international conflict more generally can benefit from understanding when states fail to agree on alliance.  Poast's work is exemplary."

-- Douglas M. Gibler, University of Alabama

"Great quantitative-qualitative synthesis, and almost nail-biting NATO formation chapter."

-- Jan Brøgger, member of Foreningen Norden and Norwegian Defence Association

"Arguing About Alliances is an innovative and breathtakingly rigorous work that adds considerably to scholars’ understanding of alliances"

-- Evan Resnick, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Review in Perspectives on Politics

"Arguing about Alliances is not only an important theoretical and empirical contribution to the alliance and broader IR literature; it is also an example of how to conduct and communicate exhaustive, multi-method social science research."

-- Jordan Becker, Insitute for European Studies, Review in Defense Studies

"His theoretical framework and data collection efforts provide a strong foundation for scholars to further study alliance treaty negotiations and advance our understanding of observed alliance patterns. In the introductory chapter, Poast expresses hope that his book will sit on shelves between Walt (1987) and Snyder (1997). In my opinion, Arguing About Alliances has earned its place between these two influential works."

-- Jesse Johnson, University of Kentucky, Review in International Studies Review.

"Arguing About Alliances should be required reading for all scholars of alliance politics and security policy more generally. It deals with a part of the chain of alliance politics that has rarely been centered before—how do leaders move from wanting an alliance to getting an alliance. We needed this piece of research, facilitated by this creative and detailed data collection on failed alliance negotiations, to be able to pursue the additional questions that I have raised. We should all be excited both by what we have learned thus far from Poast’s work and by the potential for important research that builds on this study."

-- Brett Ashley Leeds, Rice University, Review in H-Diplo Roundtable 

"Whatever else they may be, alliances are instruments of war. Paul Poast's Arguing About Alliances does important work to remind us of that fact, centering its analysis of alliance formation around the realities of war-planning: identifying threats, defining military doctrines, and choosing partners....Arguing About Alliances is a clever, useful, and engaging piece of scholarship, and it does an important service by re-centering shared enemies in our understanding of the origins of alliances. Much of the quantitative work on alliance formation examines the features of potential allies without reference to partners' potential enemies, but Poast shows that there is much to be gained from keeping this fuller strategic setting in mind.  

-- Scott Wolford, University of Texas, Review in H-Diplo Roundtable 

"Poast convincingly demonstrates the importance of ideal war plans in alliance negotiations, and his book made me wonder about the theory’s application to potential future alliances....Although I tend to focus on aspects of military alliances other than war plans, I still believe that Poast’s exemplary work offers us an excellent platform for arguing about past and future alliance negotiations."

--  Tongfi Kim, Vesalius College, Review in H-Diplo Roundtable

Replication Materials

Here are the files (mostly for Stata) for replicating the core results in chapter 3 of my book "Arguing About Alliances".


- Stata do file for Table 3-3 (Main Regression Model Results):


- Stata dta file for Dataset used to produce Table 3-3


- Stata do file for Table 3-5 (Main Matching Results):


- Stata dta file for Dataset used to produce Table 3-5

- This zip folder contains the spreadsheet with the original coding of failed military alliance negotiations.


- This zip folder contains the Stata files needed to reproduce the results in my paper "Does Issue Linkage Work", which also made use of the failed alliance negotiation data.

Bibliographic Errata

The following works are cited in the text (page 6), but were omitted from the bibliography:


- Gulick, Edward V. 1955.Europe’s Classical Balance of Power. New York: W.W. Norton


- Schleicher, Charles P. 1962. International relations: Cooperation and Conflict. Prentice-Hall.


- Rothstein, Robert L. 1968. Alliances and Small Powers. New York: Columbia University Press.


- Dinerstein, Herbert S. 1965. “The transformation of alliance systems.” American Political Science Review59(3):589–601

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