The Role of Side Payments in the Formation of Asymmetric Alliances: Forging the US–Pakistan Alliance

Published date01 August 2019
Date01 August 2019
Subject MatterArticles
The Role of Side
Payments in the
Formation of
Asymmetric Alliances:
Forging the US–
Pakistan Alliance
Muhammad Kabir1
The article builds on James Morrow’s theoretical formulation on asymmetric alli-
ances, which contends that alliances are formed as a result of a security–auton-
omy trade-off between great powers and minor powers. It expands Morrow’s
theory by showing that in the absence of a common threat or shared interests,
the trade-off tends to leave a deficit in a weaker state’s net benefits from the alli-
ance. I argue that side payments fill in the deficit in gains for weaker states. The
article highlights the importance of domestic political constraints in shaping lead-
ers’ alliance policies. I use the US–Pakistan alliance as a case study to probe the
argument. The analysis presented here shows that the alliance, formed in 1954,
was a result of a strategic trade-off between the United States and Pakistan. The
case provides support to the argument that side payments played a crucial role
in cementing the alliance.
Alliance politics, asymmetric alliances, side payments, South Asia, the US–Pakistan
1 Department of Political Science, Queens College, The City University of New York,
New York, USA.
Corresponding author:
Muhammad Kabir, Department of Political Science, Queens College, The City University
of New York, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Queens, NY 11367-1597, USA.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
6(2) 162–188, 2019
The Author(s) 2019
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797019842430
Kabir 163
The term ‘alliance’ often evokes the image of amity and friendship—allies are
expected to work together to achieve a set of shared objectives. Although an
alliance does not require the allies to have identical interests, ‘an alliance requires
of necessity a community of interests for its foundation’ (Morgenthau, 1973, p.
182). A well-known alliance theory predicts that states form alliances when they
face a common threat in order to augment their security (Walt, 1987). However,
states also form alliances even when they share no common threat but have
divergent interests. For instance, in some asymmetric alliances, defined as
alliances between major and minor powers,1 states may seek to achieve different
objectives. Why do states that have diverging interests form alliances? The article
probes this question by using the formative stage of the US–Pakistan alliance.
The United States and Pakistan formed an alliance in 1954 despite having
diverging interests and no common threats. During the height of the Cold War,
American policy towards the subcontinent was designed to unite the region
against communist powers. The United States sought an alliance with Pakistan as
a part of its Cold War containment strategy. The Pakistani leaders had little or no
interest in the containment of communist powers, but they sought the alliance as
a means to gain economic and military aid that would boost the state’s security
against India. American policymakers, however, never wanted the alliance to be
an anti-India pact nor did they wish to be entangled in Pakistan’s quarrel with
India. Since its inception in 1954, the US–Pakistan alliance has had many ups and
downs, including accusations of Pakistan’s ‘double plays’ (Komireddi, 2011;
Merkey, 2011) and America being a ‘fair-weather friend’ (Bhutto, 1969). Despite
having interest divergence in many critical areas, the United States and Pakistan
have long been allied. The question, thus, arise: why did the United States and
Pakistan form the alliance?
In this article, I argue that side payments facilitate the formation of alliances
between great powers and weaker states when the parties have diverging and
conflicting interests. The case study supports the argument that despite having
diverging and conflicting interests, side payments facilitated the formation of an
alliance between the United States and Pakistan. Side payments, as a source of
external resources, enhanced the Pakistani leaders’ hold on power in an unstable
political environment. A strategic trade-off in which the Pakistani leaders made
some concessions (such as granting basing rights to the United States and aligning
the state’s foreign policy with American foreign policy agenda) in exchange for
economic and military aid as side payments was key to the forging of the US–
Pakistan alliance. Understanding this trade-off will provide us with useful insights
into the current dilemma that bedevils the current phase of the alliance in the War
on Terror.
Side payments are positive incentives offered by one side to the other in
exchange for the recipient’s concessions on issues/policies deemed important to
the donor2 (Davis, 2009). Side payments close the deficit in net gains that is
sometimes felt by one prospective member (usually, the weaker side) of the
alliance. Foreign economic aid, military aid and loans are clear examples of such

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