Nations have two methods of increasing their security: building arms and forming alliances. Both methods present different political costs that must be incurred to raise security. Building arms requires shifting economic resources to the military. Forming alliances requires abandoning interests that conflict with those of the ally. Each of these strategies produces domestic opposition. A nation's response to a threat to its security must weigh the relative attractiveness of arms versus allies, both in terms of their effects on internal politics and on their external benefits. Three cases are examined in the light of this argument. The response of Austria and France to the unification of Germany in the 1860s is the central case. Theories of alliance formation based on neorealism and the offense-defense balance predict that Austria and France should have allied against the mutual threat of Prussia. This article argues that they did not form an alliance because arming separately presented lower political costs. World Wars I and II likewise are analyzed from the perspective of the argument above.
I thank Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Scott Gartner, Paul Huth, Jack Levy, Robert Powell, and Randolph Siverson for their comments on earlier versions of this article. I retain all responsibility for the views and interpretations presented here.
1 The basic presentation of neorealist theory can be found in Waltz, Kenneth N., Theory of International Politics (New York: Random House, 1979). The terms “chain-ganging” and “buck-passing” appear in Christensen, Thomas J. and Snyder, Jack, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks: Predicting Alliance Patterns in Multi polarity,” International Organization 44 (Spring 1990), pp. 137–68.
2 Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks.”
3 On the offense-defense balance, see Quester, George H., Offense and Defense in the International System (New York: John Wiley, 1977); and Jervis, Robert, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (spring 1978), pp. 167–214, especially pp. 186–210.
4 Benjamin A. Most and Harvey Star present a general argument that classes of foreign policies cannot be considered in isolation from their possible substitutes in their works “International Relations Theory, Foreign Policy Substitutability, and ‘Nice’ Laws,” World Politics 36 (04 1984), pp. 383–406, and Inquiry, Logic and International Politics (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), chap. 5. A test of the substitution hypothesis is presented in Most, Benjamin A. and Siverson, Randolph M., “Substituting Arms and Alliances, 1870–1914: An Exploration in Comparative Foreign Policy,” in Herrmann, Charles F., Kegley, Charles W. Jr, and Rosenau, James N., eds., New Directions in the Study of Foreign Policy (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987), pp. 131–57.
5 Although this essay addresses issues in neorealist theory, the argument advanced here is not neorealist. Preferences play a central role in the argument, and neorealist theory rejects any independent role for preferences in explanations because it contends that preferences are induced by structural position. See Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, pp. 74–77 and 127–128. Still, there are clearly many points of convergence between this essay and neorealist theory (e.g., security seeking states). Morrow, James D., “Social Choice and System Structure in World Politics,” World Politics 41 (10 1988), pp. 75–97, gives a general argument that both structure and preference are essential elements of a theory of international politics. The same argument is presented in de Mesquita, Bruce Bueno and Lalman, David, War and Reason (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).
6 The Struggle for the Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 159–60 and 196.
7 See Waltz, Theory of International Politics, chaps. 6 and 8, for the neorealist position on alliances under both bipolarity and multi polarity.
8 See Snyder, Glenn H., “The Security Dilemma in Alliance Politics,” World Politics 36 (06 1984), pp. 461–95, for a discussion of the dual problems of entrapment and abandonment in alliances.
9 See Jervis, “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma” for his discussion of the security dilemma and the balance between offense and defense. As Shimshoni, Jonathan shows in “Technology, Military Advantage, and World War I: A Case for Military Entrepreneurship,” International Security 15 (Winter 1991), pp. 187–215, the concept of a system-level balance between offense and defense is problematic at best. Shimshoni cogently argues that the concept of a system-level offense-defense balance submerges distinctions between tactical, operational, and strategic levels of operations and the different effects military technology can have at each level and ignores the myriad of factors beyond technology that affect the outcome of battles and wars. Military technology does have an effect on the likely success of an offensive. However, that effect is not the same for all nations at the same time or for one nation against different possible opponents or even with different war plans against the same opponent. I agree wholeheartedly with Shimshoni. The affect of technology on the outcomes of wars and planning for war cannot be summarized by a simple balance between offense and defense. Nevertheless, I will accept making such distinctions for the purposes of restating and criticizing Christensen and Snyder's argument. Judging the balance between offense and defense is a difficult matter. Levy discusses the problems with determining when offense or defense is advantaged in Levy, Jack S., “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology: A Theoretical and Historical Analysis,” International Studies Quarterly 28 (06 1984), pp. 219–38. Further, military organization is as important as military technology in determining when the offense has an advantage. Many measures of this balance are ex post, judging an offensive advantage after offensives are proved effective. Because leaders cannot know in advance the outcome of wars, I rely on ex ante information of perceived offensive advantages. I judge that leaders believe the offensive is advantaged if they adopt offensive war plans. This definition captures Levy's concept of “The Incentive to Strike First.”
10 This conclusion does not follow from Jervis's model of the security dilemma as a prisoners' dilemma game in “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma.” The only equilibrium of a prisoners' dilemma is mutual defection; changing the cardinal payoffs while retaining the ordinal ranking of outcomes does not change that equilibrium. One could argue that Jervis was anticipating Taylor and Axelrod's well-known application of the Folk Theorem, showing that mutual cooperation can be an equilibrium outcome of indefinitely iterated prisoners' dilemma. The likelihood that cooperation in individual rounds can be sustained as the implementation of a tit-for-tat strategy does vary with the cardinal payoffs of the game as Jervis argues. But as Axelrod and Keohane argue, iterated prisoners' dilemma may not be an appropriate model of security affairs; see Axelrod, Robert and Keohane, Robert O., “Achieving Cooperation Under Anarchy: Strategies and Institutions,” in Oye, Kenneth A., ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 226–54. Successful war may destroy the other side's ability to retaliate, undermining tit-for-tat as an equilibrium. See Taylor, Michael, Anarchy and Cooperation (London: John Wiley, 1976); and Axelrod, Robert, “The Emergence of Cooperation Among Egoists” lmerican Political Science Review 75 (06 1981), pp. 306–18, for a proof that tit-for-tat is a Nash equilibrium of indefinitely iterated prisoners' dilemma. Axelrod and Keohane also argue that the shadow of the future may be short in security issues (see Axelrod, and Keohane, , “Achieving Cooperation Under Anarchy,” pp. 232–33). A general folk theorem can be found in Fudenberg, Drew and Maskin, Eric, “The Folk Theorem in Repeated Games with Discounting and with Incomplete Information,” Econometrica 54 (05 1986), pp. 533–54.
11 Christensen, and Snyder, , “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks,” pp. 140–47.
12 See McNeill, William H., The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since 1000A.D, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), chap. 7, for a discussion of the effect of technological change on warfare in this period. The figures for Prussian mobilization are from Howard, Michael, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870–1871 (London: Methuen, 1961), p. 60.
13 Quester, , Offense and Defense in the International System, pp. 77–78.
14 Of the two innovations, breech-loading was probably more important. Both the Union and Confederate armies used muzzle-loading rifles during the American Civil War but apparently took little advantage of the greater range of the rifled musket on the battlefield. Lack of tactical training and control led both armies to adopt essentially Napoleonic tactics on the battlefield. Breech loading allowed both higher rates of fire and the protection of a prone position. See Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986).
15 See Ropp, Theodore, War in the Modern World (New York: Collier, 1962), pp. 161–64, on the tactical effect of these developments.
16 Showalter, Dennis E. discusses German war plans for the Seven Weeks' War in Railroads and Rifles: Soldiers, Technology, and the Unification of Germany (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976), pp. 54–6. Also see Craig, Gordon A., The Battle of Königgrätz: Prussia's Victory over Austria, 1866 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1964), pp. 26–55, for both sides' plans for the Seven Weeks' War and their early implementation.
17 Not all French war plans were offensive. Engineers such as General Charles Auguste Frossard drew up plans that emphasized the defensive role of fortifications, the general plan for a major war since the 1830s. But none of these plans was official, and the war ministry's plans were offensive. See Holmes, Richard, The Road to Sedan: The French Army 1866–70 (London: Royal Historical Society, 1984), pp. 165–79.
18 Altfeld, Michael F., “The Decision to Ally: A Theory and Test,” Western Political Quarterly 37 (12 1984), pp. 523–44. Also see Morrow, James D., “Alliances and Asymmetry: An Alternative to the Capability Aggregation Model of Alliances,” American Journal of Political Science 35 (11 1991), pp. 904–33, for a further extension of the Altfeld model to the formation and dissolution of alliances.
19 Formally, To see this, solve Altfeld's equations (1) and (2) for the partial derivatives of utility with respect to security and set the resulting expressions equal (see Altfeld, “The Decision to Ally”).
20 Alan C. Lamborn discusses the political costs, measured as internal and external risks, created by different strategies of extraction in his incisive book, The Price of Power: Risk and Foreign Policy in Britain, France, and Germany (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1991). For an analysis of the domestic political costs of war preparation, see Barnett, Michael, “High Politics Is Low Politics: The Domestic and Systemic Sources of Israeli Security Policy, 1967–1977,” World Politics 42 (07 1990), pp. 529–62. For an analysis of those costs of alliance policy, see Barnett, Michael and Levy, Jack S., “Domestic Sources of Alliances and Alignments: The Case of Egypt, 1962–73,” International Organization 45 (Summer 1991), pp. 369–95. For further discussions of this topic, see Sorokin, Gerald, “The Politics of Alliance: Security Trade-offs in Enduring Interstate Rivalries,” Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1992.
21 This discussion of alliances is based on Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry.” A statistical model predicting when allies honour their commitments is presented in Altfeld, Michael F. and de Mesquita, Bruce Bueno, “Choosing Sides in Wars,” International Studies Quarterly 23 (03 1979), pp. 87–112. I have not addressed the question of autonomy versus security benefits in alliances, which is discussed in Morrow, “Alliances and Asymmetry,” because this article considers only alliances between major powers, which are symmetric in the autonomy-security trade-off model of alliances.
22 Berkowitz, Bruce D., “Realignment in International Treaty Organizations,” International Studies Quarterly 27 (03 1983), pp. 77–96.
23 This argument parallels the predatory theory of rule; see Levi, Margaret, Of Rule and Revenue (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
24 See Taylor, , The Struggle for the Mastery of Europe, pp. 99–157, and Bridge, F. R. and Bullen, Roger, The Great Powers and the European States System 1815–1914 (London: Longman, 1980), pp. 81–102, for the background to the wars of German unification.
25 This discussion is based on Taylor, A. J. P., The Hapsburg Monarchy, 1809–1918 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), pp. 104–8.
26 This section on Austrian military policy is based on Rothenberg, Gunther E., The Army of Francis Joseph (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1976), pp. 56–89, and Craig, , The Battle of Königgrätz, pp. 5–12.
27 Sked, Alan, The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire 1815–1918 (New York: Longman, 1989), p. 179.
28 See Taylor, , The Hapsburg Monarchy, pp. 35–36, on the threat Italy posed to the “Austrian idea.” Also see Barker, Nancy Nichols, “Austria, France, and the Venetian Question, 1861–66,” Journal of Modem History 36 (06 1964), pp. 145–54; Clark, Chester Wells, Joseph, Franz and Bismarck: The Diplomacy of Austria Before the War of 1866 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1934), pp. 40–47, 150–52, 263–66, 303–307, 403–14, and 433–37; and Pottinger, E. Ann, Napoleon III and the German Crisis 1865–1866 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), pp. 54–9, and 104–16, on the difficulties of a Franco-Austrian alliance.
29 Decsy, János, Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy's Influence on Hapsburg Foreign Policy During the Franco-German War of 1870–1871 (New York: Eastern European Quarterly, 1979), p. 14.
30 Taylor, , The Hapsburg Monarchy, pp. 121–40.
31 This history is based on Bagdasarian, Nicholas Der, The Austro-German Rapprochement, 1870–1879 (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1976), pp. 28–46; Bridge, F. R., The Hapsburg Monarchy Among the Great Powers, 1815–1918 (New York: St. Martin's, 1990), pp. 72–103; Decsy, Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy's Influence on Hapsburg Foreign Policy During the Franco-German War of1870–1871; and Taylor, , The Hapsburg Monarchy, pp. 141–8.
32 Plessis, Alain, The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire, 1852–1871, trans. Mandelbaum, Jonathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 158–59.
33 See Plessis, , The Rise and Fall of the Second Empire, 1852–1871, pp. 1–57 and 152–69 (election figures on p. 158); Bury, J. P. T., Napoleon III and the Second Empire (London: English Universities Press, 1964); Case, Lynn M., French Opinion on War and Diplomacy During the Second Empire (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1954), pp. 1–14; and Zeldin, Theodore, The Political System of Napoleon III (London: Macmillan, 1958), pp. 80–4, 92–5.
34 See Pottinger, Napoleon III and the German Crisis 1865–1866, and Taylor, , The Struggle for the Mastery of Europe, pp. 166–75.
35 Holmes, , The Road to Sedan, p. 151.
36 This and the following paragraphs are based on Holmes, The Road to Sedan.
37 These figures are from Holmes, , The Road to Sedan, p. 92.
38 Case, , French Opinion on War and Diplomacy During the Second Empire, pp. 233–40.
39 The French also produced the mitrailleuse, a primitive machine gun. However, secrecy about its development and production led both to the lack of consideration of how it should be employed in combat and the lack of familiarity among the troops who operated it. It also was plagued by unreliability and other technical problems. It did not have a decisive influence on the battlefield.
40 To parallel Christensen and Snyder, “Chain Gangs and Passed Bucks,” I discuss just the few years before the beginning of each war. Although Christensen and Snyder never state explicitly what time periods they address, their analysis covers 1911–1914 for World War I and 1938–1940 for World War II. Similarly, my analysis focuses on the immediate prewar years.
41 The chapter in The Pursuit of Power on the relationship between arms technology and industrial production before World War I reflects the dramatic changes in naval technology compared with the lack of change in military technology for armies. See McNeill, , The Pursuit of Power, pp. 262–306.
42 Stone, Norman, The Eastern Front 1914–1917 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1975), chap. 1.
43 See Kitchen, Martin, A Military History of Germany (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975), pp. 185–87; and Lamborn, Alan C., “Risk and Foreign Policy Choice,” International Studies Quarterly 29 (12 1985), pp. 385–410.
44 Krumeich, Gerd, Armaments and Politics in France on the Eve of the First World War: The Introduction of Three-Year Conscription 1913–1914, trans. Conn, Stephen (Worcester, Mass.: Berg Publishers, 1984).
45 Rothenberg, , The Army of Francis Joseph, pp. 164–65.
46 Ibid, pp. 157–59.
47 Taylor, , The Struggle for the Mastery of Europe, pp. 487–89.
48 See Kennedy, Paul, The Rise of the Anglo-German Antagonism, 1860–1914 (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1980), pp. 321–60; and Williamson, Samuel R. Jr, The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain and France Prepare for War, 1904–1914 (London: Ashfield Press, 1990), pp. 284–307.
49 See Watt, Donald Cameron, Too Serious a Business: European Armed Forces and the Approach to the Second World War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), pp. 59–84, on the dramatic changes in military technology and doctrine in the 1930s.
50 Taylor, A. J. P., The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1961), pp. 246–47.
51 See Murray, Williamson, The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938–1939: The Path to Ruin (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 162–66, for French estimates of German strength before the Sudetenland crisis.
52 Young, Robert J., In Command of France: French Foreign Policy and Military Planning, 1933–1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), pp. 16–17.
53 Hochman, Jiri, The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security, 1934–1938 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 60. Hochman refers to Tofer as the Foreign Minister of Estonia, but the index to the third series of Documents on British Foreign Policy, Series 3, vol. 10 (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1961) states that Tofer was minister in Berlin from 1936 to 1939.
54 Watt, Donald Cameron, How War Came (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989), p. 222.
55 Adamthwaite, Anthony, France and the Coming of the Second World War 1936–1939 (London: Frank Cass, 1977), pp. 73 and 235–36.
56 Young, , In Command of France, p. 237.
57 Young, , In Command of France, p. 198. Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War 1936–1939, p. 162, paraphrases this comment as fifteen days for the annihilation of the French air force.
58 Alan S. Milward cites French defense expenditures of £215 million in 1938 and £750 million in 1939 in War, Economy, and Society 1939–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), p. 44. Although these figures may be contaminated by additional expenditures after war began, clearly French military spending rose dramatically in 1939. Adamthwaite, , in France and the Coming of the Second World War 1936–1939, p. 164, cites military expenditures as comprising 8.2 percent of French national income in 1938 and 22.8 percent in 1939. Adamthwaite also discusses plan 5 on pp. 162–63.
59 Adamthwaite, , France and the Coming of the Second World War 1939–1939, p. 340. Military estimates by the French general staff were almost certainly influenced by political considerations as well as purely military factors. Still, the military was unwilling to tell the politicians that it was ready to fight in 1938 but was willing to do so in 1939.
60 See Hughes, Jeffrey L., “The Origins of World War II in Europe: British Deterrence and German Expansionism,” in Rotberg, Robert I. and Rabb, Theodore K., eds., The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 281–321, on Neville Chamberlain's belief in the efficacy of strategic air power and its effect on British arms policy and diplomacy.
61 Murray, , The Change in the European Balance of Power, 1938–1939, pp. 66–67.
62 Overy, R. J., The Air War 1939–1945 (London: Europa Publications, 1980), pp. 20–25.
63 The aims of Soviet foreign policy during the 1930s are a matter of some controversy. Posen, Barry R. identifies two views of Soviet intentions in “Competing Images of the Soviet Union,” World Politics 39 (07 1987), pp. 579–97. He identifies the view that the Soviet Union was a “typical great power” with Haslam's, JonathanThe Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe, 1933–39 (New York: St. Martin's, 1984). Posen opposes this view with the opinion that the Soviet Union was a totalitarian, expansionist state, identifying that view with Hochman, The Soviet Union and the Failure of Collective Security, 1934–1938. My interpretation of Soviet foreign policy leans toward the former view of Soviet intentions but is not inconsistent with the latter. In either view, Stalin would wish to avoid fighting the Germans alone. War on the side of the Western Allies would be acceptable, provided they bore their share (or more) of the fighting. Either view supports the idea that Stalin needed to rebuild his economy and military before challenging Germany alone. It is not clear that any evidence could separate these two views of Soviet aims during this period. There are interpretations of either view that are consistent with Soviet policy. Given that we cannot eliminate either view, I have focused on the elements of Soviet policy that are consistent with both views.
64 Harrison, Mark, Soviet Planning in Peace and War 1938–1945(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 51, cites that 85 percent of the Soviet aircraft industry and 60 percent of its armament industry were located in future war zones.
65 Watt, , How War Came, p. 369.
66 See Ulam, Adam B., Expansion and Coexistence: Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–73, 2d ed. (New York: Praeger, 1974), pp. 266–79, especially pp. 270–72 and 275–76, on the treaty discussions with the Western powers; and Bullock, Alan, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives (London: HarperCollins, 1990), pp. 667–86, on Soviet policy between the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the invasion of Poland.
67 For annual figures for Soviet arms production from 1930 to 1944, see Harrison, Soviet Planning in Peace and War 1938–1945, appendix 1.
68 Seaton, Albert, Stalin as Warlord (London: B. T. Batsford, 1976), p. 89.
69 See Erickson, John, The Road to Stalingrad: Stalin's War with Germany, vol. 1 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1975), pp. 15–24 and 37–46 on changes in doctrine and training; pp. 32–37 and 62–5 on production of modern tanks and airplanes; and pp. 68–73 on the deployment of the Red Army.
70 See Harrison, , Soviet Planning in Peace and War 1938–1945, pp. 42–63, on Soviet economic planning for war.
71 Seaton, , Stalin as Warlord, p. 97, reports the following comment by General Georgy Zhukov according to I. K. Bagramyan, “It was Stalin's opinion that the superiority of the Wehrmacht was such that at first the Red Army would be unable to hold the frontier areas, let alone contain the sector of the enemy main attack, for the Germans had both battle experience and greater technical ability.”
72 Ibid, p. 93.
73 Bueno de Mesquita forcefully makes the case for studying “big” wars within the study of all wars in Mesquita, Bruce Bueno de, “Big Wars, Little Wars: Avoiding Selection Bias,” International Interactions, vol. 16, no. 2, 1990, pp. 159–69. That issue of International Interactions also includes essays on other views of “big” wars. Woosang Kim and James D. Morrow provide the beginning of an explanation of “big” wars in the conclusion of their article “When Do Power Shifts Lead to War?” American Journal of Political Science 36 (11 1992), pp. 896–922.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
Full text views reflects the number of PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 21st August 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.