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Chain gangs and passed bucks: predicting alliance patterns in multipolarity

  • Thomas J. Christensen (a1) and Jack Snyder (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2009

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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David Dessler , “What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?International Organization 43 (Summer1989), pp. 441–74

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Jack S. Levy , “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology,” International Studies Quarterly 28 (061984), pp. 219–38

Glenn Snyder , “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36 (071984), pp. 461–95

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
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