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‘Alignment’, not ‘alliance’ – the shifting paradigm of international security cooperation: toward a conceptual taxonomy of alignment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 May 2011


This article provides a working taxonomy of the concept of ‘alignment’ in the discipline of International Relations (IR); a heretofore major deficiency in the otherwise abundant literature on alliance/alignment. It further contends that the label ‘alliance’ is commonly employed reflexively and unreflectively, where in fact the term ‘alignment’ would be a superior and more accurate descriptor. This contention is buttressed by empirical developments in international politics. The article makes the case that the contemporary security environment is characterised by multiple forms of ‘alignment’, not just alliances, in their many guises. In addition, we can identify ‘coalitions’, ‘security communities’, and ‘strategic partnerships’; all distinctly different from the conventional ‘alliance’ archetype. It concludes that a change in our thinking about defining and conceptualising alignment and alliance is required to bring disciplinary work closer in line with the paradigmatic shift that is occurring in contemporary international politics.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2011

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