In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Alliances

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Colonial and Imperial Alliances
  • Great Power Alliances
  • Alliances During the World Wars
  • Post–Cold War Alliances
  • Innovative Alliance Organizations

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Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


International Relations Alliances
Christopher Seely
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0045


Rulers and national leaders have used political alliances for many different reasons. Military alliances may serve as a deterrent against opponents because of the threat of multifront wars. Groups of nations have also come together to form multistate alliance networks during armed conflicts in order to counter perceived threats. Some famous examples of these networks include the Holy Alliance against Napoleon; the Triple Alliance and its rival, the Triple Entente, during World War I; and the Axis powers against the Grand Alliance during World War II. Alliances may also serve economic, political, or strategic interests. For example, many leaders have forged alliances in order to expand their empires through tribal networks and colonial patronage. Aside from their usefulness in both war and peacetime, alliances may also have negative aspects. An alliance can limit the diplomatic freedom of a country. Lesser powers may use their alliance as diplomatic leverage or as an excuse to act irresponsibly because of their guaranteed protection from more powerful allies. Great powers may also use their alliance to coerce or limit the actions of their less powerful allies.

General Overviews

The topic of alliances has such a broad and undefined scope that few authors attempt to write a single overview that covers the topic in its entirety. Those few books that have been published under the rubric of covering the topic in this way tend to focus on case studies as a window into broader issues. Walt 1987 offers a good example of this type of approach. This book uses the Middle East as a microcosm of global alliance networks. Pressman 2008 also uses case studies, but this work uses several different examples throughout history in order to study the more narrow issue of alliances and their impact on armed conflict. Snyder 1997 takes the broadest approach in its attempt to examine what factors contribute to the formation of stable alliances.

  • Pressman, Jeremy. Warring Friends: Alliance Restraint in International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.

    Good overview of how alliances work to restrain conflict; analyzes case studies including the British/Israeli alliance in the 1967 Six-Day War, British alliances involving the 1956 Suez Crisis, and the US/French alliance relating to the Indochina war of 1954.

  • Snyder, Glenn H. Alliance Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

    Well-received overview; integrates theories of bargaining, coalition formation, and neorealism in an examination of historical case studies from 1879 to 1914, focusing particularly on the German-Austrian, German-Austrian-Russian, and Franco-Russian alliances.

  • Walt, Stephen M. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.

    Innovative in challenging the traditional balance-of-power theoretical view of international politics; uses Middle East alliances to argue that the balance-of-threat approach should also be integrated into the traditional emphasis on variables like ideology, foreign aid, and political penetration.

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