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Democratic Reliability, Precommitment of Successor Governments, and the Choice of Alliance Commitment

  • Michaela Mattes (a1)

Given frequent leadership turnover and leaders' need to appeal to voters, democracies should face difficulties in maintaining their alliance commitments. Yet the empirical evidence predominantly shows that they do make reliable allies. Democratic governments can increase reliability by binding future administrations through the choice of alliance commitment. While defense pacts precommit future leaders to close military cooperation with an ally, consultation pacts leave more room for discretion. This research note examines when precommitment through a defense pact is likely to occur. A government should be more likely to conclude a defense pact if potential successors have different preferences regarding the alliance, if the government believes that it will lose power soon, and if the costs of precommitment are not too high. I test the theoretical expectations using the Alliance Treaty Obligations and Provisions (ATOP) data between 1945 and 2003. The findings support the argument and suggest an answer to the puzzle of why states sometimes conclude whole-hearted commitments and other times seemingly half-hearted ones.

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International Organization
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