Revisiting the Bandwagoning Hypothesis: A Statistical Analysis of the Alliance Dynamics of Small States

Published date01 January 2022
Date01 January 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
59 (1) 7 –27, 2022
© 2022 Jawaharlal Nehru University
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DOI: 10.1177/00208817221085414
Research Article
Revisiting the
A Statistical Analysis
of the Alliance
Dynamics of Small States
Brittnee Carter1
Early theories of alliance formation often focus on when great power or status
quo states will enter into military alliances. However, revisionist powers, seeking
to threaten the international order igniting global security concerns, often draw
power from their alliances with small regional neighbours and weak states. Though
several studies discuss indicators that may potentially drive these weak states to
bandwagon with revisionist powers to the detriment of protecting status quo
security interests, many of these theories have yet to be tested empirically, let
alone be presented and tested within the same study. This research empirically
tests the conditions under which weak states will form bandwagoning alliances
with aggressor states. The results demonstrate that weak states will form
bandwagoning alliances with neighbouring regional aggressors, when facing an
external threat, and especially under conditions of internal duress or domestic
political strife. In order to protect global security interests and to keep aggressor
and revisionist states from gaining power and influence through bandwagoning
alliances, status quo states should identify internally destabilized weak states and
offer early assistance in state building and increasing bureaucratic capacity.
Alliance, bandwagoning, balance of power, small states, international security
In September 2015, the Russia–Syria–Iran–Iraq coalition (4 + 1) was formed as a
joint military and intelligence sharing alliance intended to combat the major
1 Department of Political Science, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
Corresponding author:
Brittnee Carter, 1541 Lilac Ln, Rm. 504, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA.
8 International Studies 59(1)
regional security issues posed by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and the Levant.
Russia and Iran have often been characterized as revisionist powers seeking to
upset the current international order, posing security concerns to much of the
global community. As major regional powers, Russia and Iran have positioned
themselves to project power and accumulate influence among weaker states in the
Middle East at the expense of Western influence and alliances that are crucial to
protecting global security interests. The lack of adequate response from the West,
and especially the USA, regarding the internal duress of weak Arab states such as
Syria and Iraq, drove these states to seek assistance and protection elsewhere;
namely, to form bandwagoning alliances with the revisionist Russian and Iran,
who had long presented themselves as de facto allies of these weak Middle Eastern
nations and as challengers to the global order. Propped up by these small state
alliances, Russia and Iran have been emboldened to take greater action in shaping
interests and ideology in the Middle East and especially in the rebuilding of Iraq,
often to the detriment of Western interests and at the expense of Israeli regional
power (Evans & Sadjadpour, 2004; Kershner & Halbfinger, 2018).
The modern study of alliance dynamics largely begins with Waltz’s (1979)
balance of power theory. In Theory of International Politics, Waltz theorizes that
states ally to balance power based on the systemic configuration of the international
order. As a response, Walt (1987) explains that states form alliances as a way to
ensure their own security and that states ally to balance against power and threat.
However, weak states are often presented with a security dilemma when they find
themselves facing a revisionist power; do they wait for the assistance of status quo
allies, possibly to the detriment of domestic political conditions or the possibility
of invasion or war, or, do they form a bandwagoning alliance with the source of
the threat? This very broad example of alliance formation behaviour of Syria and
Iraq shows the tradeoff between global security concerns and what may likely be
a zero-sum tradeoff between status quo and revisionist state competition for
power highlights the importance of understanding weak states and the alliances
into which they enter.
Existing literature examining alliance formation behaviour has yet to come to
an agreement about what conditions induce bandwagoning alliances between
weak and revisionist states. Bandwagoning alliances are a matter of global
security concern because they signal a rise in, who often posture in opposition to
status quo and great power states with the intent of upending the international
order, ultimately threatening global security. There has yet to be a study that
brings all of the theoretical explanations of bandwagoning to a single place to be
empirically tested. The purpose of this research is to present the existing
theoretical arguments regarding the domestic and internal causes of bandwagoning
alliances and test them empirically in order to determine under what conditions
weak states will bandwagon. Theories and assumptions about bandwagoning
behaviour, often expanded upon through narrative and small-N case studies,
have not been statistically analysed. Therefore, it is necessary to revisit these
theories and empirically test them in order to obtain a generalizable and externally
valid1 understanding of the conditions under which small states will for
bandwagoning alliances.

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