Alliance Index: Measuring Alignments in International Relations

Published date01 January 2019
Date01 January 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Alliance Index:
Measuring Alignments in
International Relations
David Erkomaishvili1
Orthodox approaches developed by Alliance Theory to study alliances are char-
acterized by static and state-centric focus, which exposes theory’s logical limita-
tions. In contrast, modern alignments are marked by continuous oscillations.
Alignment stability—according to orthodox Alliance Theory—may be altogether
misleading for the explanation of behaviour in alignment. This article theoreti-
cally re-conceptualizes the key notion of the orthodox Alliance Theory—the
concept of alliance. Building on the basis of isolated but significant fragments of
advanced research, the theoretical essence of the Alliance Theory is adjusted to
encompass alignment process. Importantly, such a re-calibration bears in on an
overlooked element common to all alignments—fluidity. Theoretical modifica-
tion resulted in two important outcomes. First, the change of the vantage point
in explaining alignments theoretically extends the orthodox Alliance Theory’s
traditionally limited applicability, which excluded subnational and non-state
actors. Second, the change allowed reviewing the essence of alignments focus-
ing on a persistently evolving process, rather than on alignments’ institutional
image. Sustained realignment, upgrading or downgrading of cooperative relations
between actors and concurrent alignment to rival parties is no more confusing
in explaining alignments. The article develops an alignment index and calculates
it for the post-Soviet space.
Alliance theory, alignment, post-Soviet space, alliance index
1 Department of International Relations and European Studies, Metropolitan University Prague,
Prague, Czech Republic.
Corresponding author:
David Erkomaishvili, Department of International Relations and European Studies, Metropolitan
University Prague, Dubečská 900/10, 100 31 Praha 10—Strašnice, Prague, Czech Republic.
International Studies
56(1) 28–45, 2019
2019 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718825079
Erkomaishvili 29
World as an Alliance System
Interests have traditionally prompted actors to seek association as a reliable tool
capable of managing their external relations. Tribes, groups and states chose
alignment to increase their gains, wage wars, achieve objectives, challenge orders
and to seek protection. Historically and geographically, alignment has been pre-
sent as integral part of politics. Thinking this way about Alliance Theory reveals
that it stands at the very core of any reasoning about international relations (IR)
and provides unique insights into it. Literature on the construction of align-
ments—despite many disagreements between scholars—assumes that alignments
are central to the study of IR.
The other fact, though not as popular as the one indicated earlier, is that align-
ments affect international system. Either they can have systemic outcomes or the
system may affect alignments, depending on the methodological and theoretical
perspectives that each author employs.1 In fact, few scholars deny this constant
exchange between the system and its alignments. The Cold War alignment system
and enmity of bipolarity boosted the development of the Alliance Theory in the
1960s, based on the foundation laid out by prominent realists such as Hans
Morgenthau, who provided a theoretical ground for the development of the
Alliance Theory as a sub-discipline in IR. This scholarship highlighted the impor-
tance of alignment for IR in general and, in particular, alignments’ centrality for
realism (Wolfers, 1959).
The core of the Alliance Theory had been developed during the Cold War era
to explain the functioning of bipolar system and to predict the behaviour of states,
superpowers in the first place. Scholars strove to answer questions as to why
states invest in mutual commitments instead of increasing their absolute capabili-
ties. Numerous studies were devoted to examining state choices in alignments—
why would a state under certain systemic conditions make certain choices with
preference to certain actors? In fact, alignment correlation with the outbreak of
conflicts and aggressive behaviour of states dominated alignment studies during
most of the Cold War period.
Balance of Power is the most popular approach of the orthodox Alliance
Theory. According to it, alignments are formed with a purpose of achieving cer-
tain foreign policy goals and preferences, among which the most widely accepted
one is to counteract a state or a group of states, seeking to acquire a dominant
position in the international system. Systemic constellations are considered to be
playing a decisive role for alignment construction. Other factors of a state motiva-
tion to construct or join already existing alignment may include potential benefits,
gained from the distribution of power or threats to systemic balance of power.
Alignment construction approaches based on Balance of Power theory usually
deny that alignments, or a state tendency to join them, may be derived from
regime type or national similarities. Advocates of this approach argue that allies
are selected on the basis of mutual need and not due to shared values, institutions
or sentiments (Holsti, 1985). Interests are central to this approach. Alignments are
perceived as tools utilized for curtailing hegemony within the system.

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