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Explaining Third World Alignment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Steven R. David
The Johns Hopkins University


Many argue that balance of power theory is as applicable to the Third World as it is to other states. Without substantial modification, however, balance of power theory cannot explain Third World alignments, because it ignores key characteristics of Third World states that determine alignment. The author develops a theory, “omnibalancing,” that is relevant to the Third World and that repairs these defects. Rather than balance of power's emphasis on states seeking to resist threats from other states, omnibalancing explains Third World alignments as a consequence of leaders seeking to counter internal and external threats to their rule. The superiority of omnibalancing over balance of power in making Third World alignments understandable is related to the Third World in general and to the alignment decisions of two key Third World states in particular. The author concludes by discussing why an understanding of the Third World, including Third World alignment, is central to the study of international relations.

Research Article
World Politics , Volume 43 , Issue 2 , January 1991 , pp. 233 - 256
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1991

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1 For a comprehensive discussion of what connotes alignment, see Duncan, George T. and Siverson, Randolph M., “Flexibility of Alliance Partner Choice in a Multipolar System,” International Studies Quarterly 26 (December 1982), 511–38, at 518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 In my use of the term balance of power, I include the efforts of statesmen to counter both power and threats. For more on this point, see Walt, Stephen M., The Origins of Alliances (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987), 5, 21–26Google Scholar; and Claude, Inis L. Jr, Power and International Relations (New York: Random House, 1962), 6465.Google Scholar

3 Kenneth Waltz and, to a lesser extent, Hans Morgenthau base their balance of power theory on the capabilities of states. Generally speaking, the greater the capability of a state, the greater the threat it poses to other states; see Waltz, , Theory of international Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 6; and Morgenthau, Hans and Thompson, Kenneth, Politics among Nations, 6th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1985)Google Scholar, esp. chap. 11. George Liska also emphasizes the role of external threat, calling it the “primary source of alliances”; see Nations in Alliance: The Limits of Interdependence (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962), 13.

4 Holsti, Ole R., Hopmann, P. Terrence, and Sullivan, John D., Unity and Disintegration in International Alliances: Comparative Studies (New York: John Wiley, 1973), 5.Google Scholar Based on an exhaustive survey of the literature, the authors concluded that most balance of power writings argue this.

5 Waltz, Kenneth, “Theory of International Relations,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson W., eds., Handbooks of Political Science: International Politics (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1975), 8: 43.Google Scholar

6 The notion is widespread that alliance cohesion weakens when there is no external threat. See, for example, Wolfers, Arnold, Discord and Collaboration (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962), 29Google Scholar; and Boulding, Kenneth E., Conflict and Defense: A General Theory (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 162.Google Scholar

7 This is a major argument made by Stephen Walt, who asserts that his theory is supported by the experiences of states in the Middle East. He does, however, modify balance of power theory to focus on threats (instead of power) from other states. See Walt (fn. 2), 13–14.

8 Waltz (fn. 3), 121; and Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), 228.

9 The first mention I have been able to find of “bandwagoning” in the sense used here is in Wolfers, Arnold, Discord and Collaboration: Essays in International Politics (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 15.Google Scholar See also Walt (fn. 2), 19–21.

10 See Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), chaps. 1, 3, for a concise description of realism.

11 Ibid., 4.

12 This lesson comes from the two central works of realism, Morgenthau's Politics among Nations (fn. 3) and Thucydides’, History of the Peloponnesian War (New York: Penguin, 1985).Google Scholar See also Keohane, Robert O., “Theory of World Politics: Structural Realism and Beyond,” in Keohane, , ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 163Google Scholar, for elaboration of this point.

13 This is in conformity with Graham Allison's Model I; see Allison, , The Essence of Decisions: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little Brown, 1971), 5.Google Scholar

14 Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), 5.

15 See, for example, Morgenthau (fn. 3), esp. chaps. 1, 3, as well as Waltz (fn. 3). Although differences exist between the two interpretations, they are treated together in that they both accept the view of realism that envisions a world of international anarchy in which the principal actors are states that seek to expand and survive.

16 Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), 14.

17 This study considers the Third World as including all countries except the United States, the Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the European states, and the People's Republic of China. For an especially good description of the differences between Third World states, see Cohen, Benjamin, The Question of Imperialism: The Political Economy of Dominance and Dependence (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 145–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Singer, J. David and Small, Melvin, Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980 (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1982), 9295, 98–99, 229–32.Google Scholar For additional treatment of this point, see Gaddis, John Lewis, The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 224.Google Scholar

19 From 1945 to mid-1985 there were at least 183 successful coups and 174 unsuccessful coup attempts in the Third World. See David, Steven R., Third World Coups d'Etat and International Security (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 12.Google Scholar These numbers are just conservative estimates; the actual number of coups and coup attempts may be much higher. For a comprehensive examination of estimates of numbers of coups, see Leitenberg, Milton, “Appendix 2: World-Wide Military Coups since 1945: A Short Note on Data Collection,” in Eide, Asbjorn and Thee, Marek, eds., Problems of Contemporary Militarism (London: Croom Helm, 1980), 378–85.Google Scholar

20 For an excellent discussion of why internal threats are so common in the Third World, see Ayoob, Mohammed, “Security in the Third World: The Worm about to Turn?International Affairs 60 (Winter 1983–84) 4152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 Robert H. Jackson and Carl Rosberg, G., “Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood,” World Politics 35 (October 1982), 124Google Scholar; Alagappa, Mutiah, The National Security of Developing States: Lessons from Thailand (Dover, Mass.: Auburn House, 1987), 46Google Scholar; Clapham, Christopher, Third World Politics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

22 Thomas, Caroline, In Search of Security (Boulder, Colo.: Rienner, 1987), 2.Google Scholar

23 For an excellent discussion of the role of subnational groups in Third World states (in this case, West Africa), see Zartman, I. William, International Relations in the New Africa (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), 4748.Google Scholar

24 Alagappa (fn. 21), 9. The problems of weak legitimacy are as common to the “old” Third World states of Latin America as they are to the newer states of Africa and Southeast Asia.

25 Clapham (fn. 21), 39–43.

26 Migdal, Joel S., “Internal Structure and External Behaviour: Explaining Foreign Policies of Third World States,” International Relations 4 (May 1974), 519–20.Google Scholar

27 Clapham (fn. 21), 19.

28 On foreign involvement in internal conflicts, see Rosenau, James, ed., International As pects of Civil Strife (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964);CrossRefGoogle ScholarSuhrke, Asti and Garner, Lela N., eds., Ethnic Conflict in International Relations (New York: Praeger, 1977);Google Scholar and Tillema, Herbert K., “Foreign Overt Intervention in the Nuclear Age,” Journal of Peace Research 26 (1989), 179–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29 Even threats such as coups d'état, which are thought of as strictly internal, frequently have a foreign dimension. From 1945 to mid-1985 foreign involvement played a significant role in the support of at least twenty-four successful and unsuccessful coup attempts and in efforts to suppress fourteen coups in the Third World. Foreign involvement was thus involved in slightly over 10% of the total of all coups and coup attempts. See David (fn. 19), 2.

30 According to Stephen Krasner, Third World states behave alike in global negotiations, not out of a common desire for economic development, but rather out of a common need for regime security. This view supports the contentions that one can generalize about the Third World and that concerns over survival assume central importance in Third World decision making. Krasner, See, “Third World Vulnerabilities and Global Negotiations,” Review of International Studies 9 (October 1983), 235–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

31 Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), 190.

32 See ibid., 189–92, for a concise description on why internal balancing is supposedly fundamentally different from balancing between states.

33 For an intriguing argument that order is more common between Third World (in this case, African) states than within them, see Jackson and Rosberg (fn. 21).

34 For an argument of why states should be considered the main actors in international politics, see Waltz (fn. 3), 93–95; and see also Keohane (fn. 12), 160.

35 Waltz (fn. 3), 81.

36 Morgenthau and Thompson (fn. 3), 227–28.

37 For a thorough examination of neorealism, see Keohane, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (fn. 12); see also Keohane, Robert O., “Alliances, Threats, and the Uses of Neorealism,” International Security 13 (Summer 1988), 169–76, at 173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38 Ayoob (fn. 20), 43. On the background of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War (including Indian support of the East Bengalis), see Jackson, Robert, South Asian Crisis: India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh: A Political and Historical Analysis of the 1971 War (New York: Praeger, 1975);Google Scholar and Chopra, Pran, India's Second Liberation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974).Google Scholar On the need of the Pakistani leadership to prevent the secession of East Pakistan in order to survive in power, see Jackson, 26–27.

39 For background on why Mengistu aligned with the Soviet Union, see Ottaway, Marina, Soviet and American Influence in the Horn of Africa (New York: Praeger, 1983);Google ScholarA., DavidKorn, Ethiopia, the United States, and the Soviet Union (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986)Google Scholar; Legum, Colin and Lee, Bill, The Horn of Africa in Continuing Crisis (New York: Africana, 1979)Google Scholar; and Henze, Paul B., Russians and the Horn: Opportunism and the Long View, European-American Institute for Security Research, The EAI Papers, No. 5 (Marina del Ray, Calif.: European American Institute, 1983).Google Scholar

40 Korn (fn. 39), 8, 13; Selassie, Bereket Habte, Conflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), 138Google Scholar; U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers, 1968–1977 (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1979), 157Google Scholar; Agency for International Development, U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants and Assistance from International Organizations (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1979), 101.Google Scholar

41 There is a widespread consensus among analysts across the ideological spectrum that Mengistu and the Derg were not driven by ideological factors but, rather, acted simply to survive in power. See, for example, Ottaway, Marina and Ottaway, David, Ethiopia: Empire in Revolution (New York: Africana, 1978), 149Google Scholar; Korn (fn. 39), 111; Halliday, Fred and Moylneux, Maxine, The Ethiopian Revolution (London: Unwin, 1981), 99Google Scholar; Henze, Paul B., “Beyond the Ethiopian Famine: Anatomy of a Revolution II,” Encounter (London) (July 1986), 1527, at 19Google Scholar; and Chege, Michael, “The Revolution Betrayed: Ethiopia, 1974–1979,” Journal of Modern African Studies 17 (September 1979), 359–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Mengistu's recent retreat from Marxism-Leninism (which not so coincidentally coincides with reduced Soviet support) and his reestablishment of military ties to Israel further support the view that ideological factors do not dominate his decision making.

42 Some useful works on Eritrea include Erlich, Hagai, The Struggle over Eritrea, 1962–1978 (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution, 1983)Google Scholar; Trevaskis, G. H. K., Eritrea: A Colony in Transition (London: Oxford University Press, 1960)Google Scholar; and Sherman, Richard, Eritrea: The Unfinished Revolution (New York: Praeger, 1980).Google Scholar See also Markakis, John, National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (London: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 104–45.Google Scholar

43 Many analysts make the point that Mengistu could not survive without a satisfactory settlement of the Eritrean conflict. See, for example, Legum and Lee (fn. 39), 39; Kasikas, Suzanne, The Arc of Socialist Revolutions (Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1982), 142Google Scholar; and Selassie (fn. 40), 37, 71.

44 Some good background treatments of Anwar Sadat's Egypt, including his decision to reject his alignment with the Soviet Union and turn to the United States, include el-Sadat, Anwar, In Search of Identity: An Autobiography (New York: Harper and Row, 1978)Google Scholar; Baker, Raymond William, Egypt's Uncertain Revolution under Nasser and Sadat (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978);CrossRefGoogle ScholarHinnebusch, Raymond A. Jr, Egyptian Politics under Sadat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)Google Scholar; Dawaisha, A. I., Egypt in the Arab World: The Elements of Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1976)Google Scholar; Heikal, Mohammed, The Sphinx and the Commissar: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Influence in the Arab World (London: Collins, 1978)Google Scholar; Shamir, Shimon, “Egypt's Reorientation towards the U.S.: Factors and Conditions of Decision Making,” in Shaked, Haim and Rabinovich, Itamar, eds., The Middle East and the United States: Perceptions and Policies (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1980)Google Scholar; Cooper, Mark, The Transformation of Egypt (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)Google Scholar; Rubinstein, Alvin Z., Red Star on the Nile: The Soviet-Egyptian Influence Relationship since the June War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977)Google Scholar; and Freedman, Robert O., Soviet Policy toward the Middle East since 1970 (New York: Praeger, 1975).Google Scholar

45 Extensive accounts of the internal threats besetting Sadat can be found in Baker (fn. 44); Hinnebusch (fn. 44); and Cooper (fn. 44).

46 Jervis, , “Systems Theories and Diplomatic History,” in Lauren, Paul Gordon, ed., Diplomacy: New Approaches in History, Theory and Policy (New York: Free Press, 1979), 218.Google Scholar

47 For how aligning with the USSR exacerbated Ethiopia's problems, see Henze, Paul B., “Communism and Ethiopia,” Problems of Communism 30 (May–June 1981), 5574.Google Scholar

48 Waltz (fn. 3), 103–4.

49 Waltz (fn. 5), 37–38.

50 Waltz (fn. 3), 94.

51 Walt makes this point in connection with bandwagoning; see Walt (fn. 2), 179.

52 On the possible reasons for the absence of war among states outside the Third World, see Doyle, Michael W., “Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12 (Summer-Fall 1983), 205–35, 323–53Google Scholar; idem, “Liberalism and World Politics,” American Political Science Review 80 (December 1986), 1151–69; Russett, Bruce, “The Politics of an Alternative Security System: Toward a More Democratic and Therefore More Peaceful World,” in Weston, Burns, ed., Alternatives to Nuclear Deterrence (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989)Google Scholar; Gaddis (fn. 18), esp. chap. 8; Mueller, John, “The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons: Stability in the Postwar World,” International Security 13 (Fall 1988), 5579CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Fukuyama, Francis, “The End of History,” National Interest 16 (Summer 1989), 318.Google Scholar

53 For a list of Third World countries with chemical arms, see Newsweek, September 19, 1988; for lists of Third World countries with ballistic missiles, see Carus, W. Seth, “Missiles in the Middle East: A New Threat to Stability,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Focus 6 (June 1988), 19Google Scholar; and Karp, Aaron, “Ballistic Missiles in the Third World,” International Security 9 (Winter 1984–85), 166–95.CrossRefGoogle ScholarOn nuclear proliferation, see Spector, Leonard S., with Smith, Jacqueline R., Nuclear Ambitions (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1990).Google Scholar

54 For more on the growing economic power of the Third World, see U.S. Department of Defense, Sources of Change in the Future Security Environment (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O. 1988), 4.Google Scholar

55 United States Department of Energy, Energy Security: A Report to the President of the United States (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O. 1987).Google Scholar

56 For example, Richard Ned Lebow cites the political vulnerability of a leader as one of the key factors that can induce a policy of brinkmanship; Lebow, , Between Peace and War. The Nature of International Crisis (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), 6979.Google Scholar

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