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


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.

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Stefan Bergsman , ‘The Concept of Military Alliance’, in Erich Reiter , (eds), Small states and alliances (Heidelberg: Physica-Verlag, 2001), p. 21

Pierre , Coalitions, p. ix

Michael Cox , ‘Beyond the West: Terrors in Transatlantia’, European Journal of International Relations, 11:2 (2005), pp. 203233

Ole Wæver , ‘Insecurity, Security, and Asecurity in the West European Non-War Community’, in E. Adler and M. Barnett (eds), Security Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

Alan Collins , The Security Dilemmas of South East Asia (London: Macmillan, 2000)

Emanuel Adler , ‘The Spread of Security Communities: Communities of Practice, Self-Restraint, and NATO's Post-Cold War Transformation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:2 (2008), pp. 195230

Graham T. Allison and Philip Zelikow , Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York: Longman, 1999)

Joan M. Roberts , Alliances, Coalitions and Partnerships: Building Collaborative Organizations (Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2004)

Geoffrey Roberts , The Unholy Alliance: Stalin's Pact with Hitler (London: St. Martin's Press, 1989)

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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