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Chain gangs and passed bucks: predicting alliance patterns in multipolarity

  • Thomas J. Christensen (a1) and Jack Snyder (a2)

Contemporary balance-of-power theory has become too parsimonious to yield determinate predictions about state alliance strategies in multipolarity. Kenneth Waltz's theory predicts only that multipolarity predisposes states to either of two opposite errors, which this article characterizes as chain-ganging and buck-passing. To predict which of these two policies will prevail, it is necessary to complicate Waltz's theory by adding a variable from Robert Jervis's theory of the security dilemma: the variable of whether offense or defense is perceived to have the advantage. At least under the checkerboard geographical conditions in Europe before World Wars I and II, perceived offensive advantage bred unconditional alliances, whereas perceived defensive advantage bred free riding on the balancing efforts of others.

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This article combines the work of two unpublished papers. The theoretical sections are derived from Christensen's “Chained Gangs and Passed Bucks: Waltz and Crisis Management Before the Two World Wars,“ Columbia University, December 1987. The case study material is based on Snyder's “Offense, Defense and Deterrence in the Twentieth Century,” a paper presented at the Conference on the Strategic Defense Initiative, University of Michigan, November 1986. We are grateful to Charles Glaser, Harold Jacobson, Robert Jervis, Stephen Krasner, Helen Milner, David Reppy, Cynthia Roberts, Randall Schweller, Stephen Van Evera, Stephen Walt, Deborah Yarsike, William Zimmerman, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on various earlier drafts. We also thank the Social Science Research Council and the MacArthur Foundation for Christensen's financial support and the Program in International Peace and Security Studies at the University of Michigan for sponsoring Snyder's original paper.

1. Waltz, Kenneth, Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979).

2. We feel no need to take a position on the epistemological debates surrounding Waltz's theory, spurred in particular by John Ruggie and Robert Cox. We are satisfied to accept Waltz's scheme as what Cox terms a “problem-solving theory.” For current purposes, we hope to improve its problem-solving utility rather than to address its deeper epistemological adequacy. See Keohane, Robert, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), especially pp. 208 and 214. See also Dessler, David, “What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 441–74; and Dryzek, John S., Clark, Margaret L., and McKenzie, Garry, “Subject and System in International Interaction,” International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 475504.

3. See, for example, Walt, Stephen, The Origins of Alliance (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987); and Posen, Barry, The Sources of Military Doctrine (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984). By “theory of foreign policy” we mean a theory whose dependent variable is the behavior of individual states rather than the properties of systems of states. It does not refer to a theory that explains all aspects of a state's foreign policy.

4. Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, pp. 67 and 165–69.

5. See Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (01 1978), pp. 167214; Van Everal, Stephen, “Causes of War,“ Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1984; Van Evera, Stephen, “The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War,” in Miller, Stephen E., ed., Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 58107; Van Evera, Stephen, “Offense, Defense, and Strategy: When Is Offense Best?” paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, 1987. For a work that preceded the publication of Waltz's and Jervis's theories but made many similar points, see Quester, George, Offense and Defense in the International System (New York: Wiley, 1977), especially chap. 10 on alliance behavior in World War I.

6. In addition to the above-mentioned works by Van Evera, see Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine; and Snyder, Jack, “Civil-Military Relations and the Cult of the Offensive, 1914 and 1984,” in Miller, , Military Strategy, pp. 139–40. Levy points out that difficulties in measuring offensive and defensive advantage make such judgments problematic for social scientists as well as elusive for policymakers. See Levy, Jack S., “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology,” International Studies Quarterly 28 (06 1984), pp. 219–38.

7. By “determinate predictions” we mean that if all other factors (such as checkerboard geography) are held constant, then knowing the polarity of the system and the perceived offensedefense balance will theoretically suffice to predict the alliance behavior of states. Of course, in the real world, other factors having some effect on alliance behavior may not be held constant, making our predictions probabilistic rather than strictly “determinate.”

8. For related arguments that use the concepts of entrapment and abandonment, see Snyder, Glenn, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36 (07 1984), pp. 461–95.

9. Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, pp. 167–70.

10. Ibid., p. 167.

11. Ibid., p. 165.

12. Posen, , Sources of Military Doctrine, pp. 232–33.

13. Waltz, Theory of International Politics, chaps. 6–9.

14. Ibid., pp. 169 and 171–72.

15. Ibid., chap. 9. This certainly is the view of Waltz's students. See Walt, Stephen, “The Case for Finite Containment: Analyzing U.S. Grand Strategy,” International Security 14 (Summer 1989), pp. 549; and Stephen Van Evera, ”American Strategic Interests: Why Europe Matters; Why the Third World Doesn't” (forthcoming).

16. Posen, , Sources of Military Doctrine, p. 232. We are grateful to Randall Schweller forhelpful comments on this point.

17. This is at least implicit in Waltz's, arguments about interdependence in his Theory of International Politics, pp. 143–46, juxtaposed to his arguments about the relative invulnerabilityof the bipolar superpowers, p. 172. Note also Waltz's remarks about firms on p. 135: “Morethan any other factor, relative size determines the survival of firms. Firms that are large incomparison to most others in their field find many ways of taking care of themselves—of protecting themselves against other large firms.”

18. For related discussions, see Posen, , Sources of Military Doctrine, p. 232; Van Evera, , “The Cult of the Offensive,” pp. 96–101; Van Evera, , “Why Cooperation Failed in 1914,” in Oye, Kenneth, ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), especially pp. 8384; and Walt, , Origins of Alliance, especially pp. 2425, fn 31, and pp.32 and 165–67.

19. For the theory underlying this hypothesis, see Jervis, Robert, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), especially chap. 6.

20. See Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine; Van Evera, “Causes of War”; Snyder, “Civil-Military Relations”; and Snyder, Jack, “International Leverage on Soviet Domestic Change,” World Politics 41 (10 1989), pp. 130. On the cult of the defensive, see Mearsheimer, John, Liddell Hart and the Weight of History (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 107, 111–12, and 128; and Van Evera, “Offense, Defense, and Strategy.”

21. Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, p. 172.

22. Ibid., pp. 165–67.

23. For a detailed description of Czechoslovakia's crucial role in the European balance, see Murray, Williamson, The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938–1939 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984).

24. Stalin's statement of 10 March 1939, cited in Ulam, Adam, Expansion and Coexistence, 2d ed. (New York: Praeger, 1974), p. 263.

25. This distinction works only as a rough first cut. There were deterrence failure aspects tothe 1914 diplomacy. Conversely, even firm, early deterrent threats might not have deterred Hitler's aggression. For a recent corrective along these lines, see Lynn-Jones, Sean M., “Detenteand Deterrence: Anglo–German Relations, 1911–1914,” International Security 11 (Fall 1986), pp. 121–50. Recent correctives, however, do not negate the main point. Even followers of Fritz Fischer accept that Germany did not want a world war but that it stumbled into it as a resultof misguided attempts to ensure German security. For a subtle discussion of these points anda commentary on Fischer's, FritzGerman Aims in the First World War (New York: Norton, 1967) and related works, see Levy, Jack S., “The Role of Crisis Management in the Outbreakof World War I,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, London, 1989, especially pp. 1516.

26. This argument about World War I, set in a theoretical perspective, is made by Questerin Offense and Defense, by Jervis in “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” and by Van Evera in “The Cult of the Offensive.”

27. Waltz makes this point. See Theory of International Politics, p. 125.

28. Van Evera, , “The Cult of the Offensive,” p. 97. We are grateful to Randall Schweller forraising this issue.

29. For a discussion of the German strategy of 1914 in an alliance context, see Sagan, Scott, “1914 Revisited: Allies, Offense, and Instability,” International Security 11 (Fall 1986), pp. 151–76. See also the dialogue between. Sagan, Scott and Snyder, Jack in “Correspondence: The Origins of Offense and the Consequences of Counterforce,” International Security 11 (Winter 1986), pp. 187–98. On German strategy more generally, see Ritter, Gerhard, The Schlieffen Plan (New York: Praeger, 1958); and Snyder, Jack, Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decisionmaking and the Disasters of 1914 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984), chaps. 4and 5.

30. Schlieffen, cited in Snyder, , Ideology of the Offensive, p. 113.

31. For additional analysis, see Van Evera, , “The Cult of the Offensive,” especially pp.96101.

32. For a perceptive analysis, see Taylor, A. J. P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe (London: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 468 and 486.

33. For an analysis of the entrapment-abandonment trade-off in 1914 and in general, see Snyder, “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics.”

34. Keiger puts this in perspective, arguing that Poincarg was not bellicose. see Keiger, John, France and the Origins of the First World War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983).

35. For what is by far the clearest account of this misunderstood episode, see Bovykin, V. I., Iz istorii vozniknoveniia pervoi mirovoi voiny: Otnosheniia Rossii i Frantsii v 1912–1914 gg. (From the history of the origins of the First World War: Relations between Russia and Francein 1912–1914) (Moscow: Moskovskii Universitet, 1961), pp. 151–53. See also Helmreich, E. C., The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938), p. 216; Garros, Louis, “En marge de I'alliance franco–russe, 1902–1914” (A footnote to the Franco–Russian alliance, 1902–1914), Revue historique de I'armée, 06 1950, p. 33; Laney, Frank M., “The Military Implementation of the Franco–Russian Alliance, 1890–1914,” Ph.D.diss., University of Virginia, 1954, p. 390; and Williamson, Samuel, “Military Dimensions of Habsburg–Romanov Relations During the Era of the Balkan Wars,” in Kiraly, Bela and Dimitrije Djordjevic, , eds., East Central European Society and the Balkan Wars (Boulder, Colo.: Social Science Monographs, 1986), pp. 317–37.

36. see Laney, , “The Military Implementation of the Franco–Russian Alliance,” p. 402; dispatch by General Marquis de Laguiche, the French military attaché in St. Petersburg, file 7N1478 (6/19 December 1912, 27 November/4 December 1912, and 30 November/13 December 1912) at the French military archive, Chateau de Vincennes; Bestuzhev, I. V., “Bor'ba v Rossiipo voprosam vneshnei politiki nakanune pervoi mirovoi voiny, 1910–1914 gg.” (The struggle in Russia on questions of foreign policy on the eve of the First World War, 1910–1914), Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 75, 1965, pp. 63 ff.; Garros, , “En marge de I'alliance franco–russe,” p. 36; Documents diplomatiques français (DDF), series 3, vol.V, no. 52, p. 65; and Podgotovka pervoi mirovoi voiny” (Preparations for the First World War), Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, no. 3, 1939, pp. 132–33.

37. see Bovykin, , Iz istorii vozniknoveniia pervoi mirovoi voiny, p. 136; and Manikovskii, A. A., Boevoe snabzhenie russkoi armii, 1914–1918 gg. (Military supply in the Russian army, 1914–1918)(Moscow: Voennyi Redaktsionnyi Sovet, 1923).

38. This is Taylor's, apt characterization of the situation in Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 494.

39. Poincaré cited by Taylor in ibid., p. 492.

40. Millerand, , cited in Ignat'ev, A. A., Piatdesiat let v stroiu (Fifty years of service), vol. 1 (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1959), p. 506.

41. Unpublished archival documents, cited in Bovykin, , Iz islorii vozniknoveniia pervoi mirovoi voiny, pp. 137 and 146 ff.

42. DDF, series 2, vol. XII, nos. 51, 55, 74, 86, 87, 90, 100, 113, and 266.

43. For example, in March 1910, Lt. Colonel Pellé, the French attaché in Berlin, wrote toGeneral Jean Jules Brun, the Minister of War, that “both on the German side and on the French, the bulk of the active forces of both countries are planned for deployment in first-line armies [near the frontiers]. The victory or defeat of these armies of the first line will very probably decide the outcome of the campaign” by the twentieth or thirtieth day after mobilization. See DDF, series 2, vol. XII, no. 453, p. 691.

44. For some pertinent comments on this matter, see Taylor, , Struggle for Mastery in Europe, p. 486.

45. See DDF, series 2, vol. XII, no. 399, p. 611; and Snyder, Ideology of the Offensive, chaps. 6 and 7.

46. Conversation between Colonel Mikhelsson and Lt. Colonel Pellé, reported by Pellé to General Brun in March 1910 and cited in DDF, series 2, vol. XII, no. 453, p. 695, and no. 467, p. 717.

47. see Emets, Valentin Alekseevich, “O roli russkoi armii v pervyi period mirovoi voiny, 1914–1918 gg.” (On the role of the Russian army in the first period of the World War, 1914–1918), Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 77, 1965, p. 64.

48. General N. A. Kliuev, chief of staff of the Warsaw military district, cited by Emets in ibid., p. 64.

49. Emets, Valentin Alekseevich, Ocherki vneshnei politiki rossii v period pervoi mirovoi voiny: Vzaimootnosheniia rossii s soiuznikami po voprosam vedeniia voiny (Sketches of theforeign policy of Russia during the First World War: Relations of Russia with its allies on questions of the conduct of the war) (Moscow: Nauka, 1977), pp. 4752.

50. Howard, Michael, The Continental Commitment (London: Temple Smith, 1972).

51. This is Field Marshal William Robertson's apt characterization of the views of Runciman, Walter and McKenna, Reginald, cited by French, David in British Strategy and War Aims, 1914–1916 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986), p. 247.

52. French, ibid., p. 3; for related evidence, see also pp. xii, 106, 118, and 245–46.

53. This is French's characterization of Lord Kitchener's views, cited in ibid., pp. 200– 201.

54. French, ibid., pp. xii, 119, and 201.

55. See Murray, Change in the European Balance of Power. On the tailoring of Germanmilitary capability for short campaigns and diplomatic intimidation, see Posen, , Sources of Military Doctrine, especially p. 200.

56. see Mearsheimer, John, Conventional Deterrence (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), chap. 4.

57. Khrushchev, Nikita, Khrushchev Remembers, vol. 1 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), p.134; see also p. 129. According to Deutscher, “the major premise of Stalin's policy and hismajor blunder” were that “he expected Britain and France to hold their ground for a long time.” See Deutscher, Isaac, Stalin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1949), p. 441.

58. Stalin, cited in Erickson, John, The Soviet High Command (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1962), p. 513.

59. see Erickson, John, The Road to Stalingrad, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 8 and 26; and Erickson, , Soviet High Command, p. 537.

60. see Deutscher, , Stalin, p. 437. This general predisposition to underestimate the feasibility of blitzkrieg may even have lasted past May 1940 and contributed to the false hope that Hitler would not attack in June 1941. Politburo member Andrei Zhdanov believed in 1940 that “Germanyis incapable of fighting on two fronts,” and even after the fall of France, he considered that Germany was too “bogged down” by the war with England to attack the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov said in June 1941 that “only a fool would attack us.” see Ra'anan, Gavriel, International Policy Formation in the USSR (Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1983), p. 18. On some new revelations along the same lines, see Perechenev, Y., “Ten Volumes About the War,” Moscow News, no. 38, 20 09 1987, p. 10, citing Simonov, K. M., ”Zametki k biografii G. K. Zhukova” (Notes for the biography of G. K. Zhukov), Voennoistoricheskii zhurnal, no. 9, 1987, pp. 4951. We are grateful to Cindy Roberts for this citation.

61. Stalin, cited in Fischer, Louis, Stalin's Road from Peace to War (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 304.

62. For insightful analyses of the situation, see Taylor, Telford, Munich (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), pp. 452–56; and Posen, Barry, “Competing Images of the Soviet Union,” World Politics 39 (07 1987), pp. 579604.

63. For this evidence, see footnotes 57 and 59–62 above.

64. In Sources of Military Doctrine, chap. 4, Posen describes the French military strategyas driven by the desire to pass the costs of fighting to the British.

65. Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 348.

66. For a review of the complexities of the evidence on this, see Adamthwaite, Anthony, France and the Coming of the Second World War, 1936–1939 (London: Frank Cass, 1977), pp. 269–79.

67. Gamelin, cited in ibid., p. 232.

68. Cadogan, cited in ibid., p. 232. Kitchener had organized the expansion of the Britisharmy for deployment in France in World War I.

69. Gamelin, cited in ibid., pp. 232–34.

70. Gamelin's opinion of 23 August 1939, cited in ibid., p. 340. See also ibid., p. 311.

71. Daladier, cited in ibid., pp. 226 and 230.

72. Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine, chap 4.

73. Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War, pp. 252 and 274.

74. For additional evidence in support of this interpretation, see Gates, Eleanor M., End of the Affair: The Collapse of the Anglo–French Alliance, 1939–1940 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), pp. 5758.

75. Bond, Brian, British Military Policy Between the Two World Wars (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980), p. 336.

76. Chamberlain's letters to family members, cited in Cowling, Maurice, The Impact of Hitler (London: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 355–57. See also Bond, , British Military Power, p. 253; and Gibb, N. H.s, Grand Strategy, vol. 1, Rearmament Policy (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1976), pp. 637–38. Bond and Gibbs also note, however, that the notions of defensive advantage held by Chamberlain and Leslie Hore-Belisha were not universally held within British official circles. We are grateful to Randall Schweller for help on this point.

77. Dilk, Davids, ed., The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 1938–1945 (London: Cassell, 1971), p. 119.

78. Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 298.

79. Newman, Simon, March 1939: The British Guarantee to Poland (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), pp. 155–56.

80. Bond, , British Military Policy, p. 306.

81. See, for example, the views of Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the Exchequer, cited in Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 274; and the views of the Chiefs of Staff, cited in Newman, , March 1939, p. 139. See also Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War, p. 51.

82. Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War, p. 71.

83. see Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, pp. 276–77; Dilks, , Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, p. 139; and Bond, , British Military Policy, p. 297.

84. British Chiefs of Staff, cited in Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War, p. 253. See also Dilks, , Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, p. 166. In Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 71, Murray argues, mostly by inference, that the Britishchange on the continental commitment in 1939 was due to the loss of Czechoslovakia's thirty-four divisions from the European military equation. In British Military Policy, p. 296, Bond notes that Britain's military attaché in Paris took this view.

85. Vansittart, , cited in , Murray, Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 69.

86. For information on Chamberlain's views, see Rock, William R., Neville Chamberlain (New York: Twayne, 1969), p. 180; Cowling, , Impact of Hitler, p. 395; and Colvin, Ian, The Chamberlain Cabinet (London: Gollancz, 1971), p. 174. For background on air power policyand perceptions, see Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine, chap. 5; and Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, pp. 208 and 251–53.

87. Bond, , British Military Policy, p. 282.

88. Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War, p. 320.

89. For a discussion of the events in 1914, see Snyder, Ideology of the Offensive. For similarpoints about 1938–39, see Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine. In “Causes of War,” Van Evera offers a general theory of this type.

90. see Bond, Brian and Alexander, Martin, “Liddell Hart and De Gaulle: The Doctrine of Limited Liability and Mobile Defense,” in Paret, Peter, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy, 2d ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 612; and Mearsheimer, , Liddell Hart and the Weight of History, pp. 107, 111–12, and 128.

91. Murray, , Change in the European Balance of Power, p. 13.

92. We thank Stephen Walt for suggesting this possibility. Walt's Origins of Alliances appliesa variant of balance-of-power theory to Middle Eastern case studies.

93. For background, see Bartlett, C. J., Great Britain and Sea Power, 1815–1853 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).

94. For this argument as applied to the present bipolar setting, see Jervis, Robert, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989).

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