The development of a Neorealist theory of military capability mutualisation and its application to cases in contemporary Europe

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent years, and particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, European states have found it increasingly difficult to maintain breadth and scale in the military capabilities available to their armed forces. Cooperative initiatives such as the pooling, sharing and specialisation of roles and capabilities provide a way for states to retain access to military capabilities while funding them more efficiently. Yet while efficiencies can be considerable, such forms of cooperation also entail a degree of mutual dependence and a curtailment of autonomy. Mutual dependence can lead to the risk of entrapment by a partner into detrimental circumstances otherwise avoided, or even abandonment leading to an inability to act. Recent initiatives demonstrate, however, that European states are prepared to countenance mutual dependencies with each other, from industrial design and production through to frontline operations. How, then, do these states realise greater efficiencies through mutual dependence while creating sufficient confidence to mitigate the apparent risks of entrapment and abandonment? 
To provide a generalised answer to this question requires a theoretical perspective. Yet the specialisation and sharing of military capabilities in pursuit of greater efficiency does not fit comfortably with extant international relations theories, particularly the tradition of realism, which emphasises state sovereignty in an anarchic international system. Neorealism, the dominant school of realist thought, assumes that such conditions rule out specialisation in security matters, and push states towards self-help instead. Defence cooperation ought thus to be concerned with the effective aggregation of forces rather than mutualisation for efficiency. This thesis claims, however, that mutualisation of military capability in pursuit of greater efficiency deserves recognition as a distinct phenomenon in international relations. It is argued that by expanding the purview of neorealism to include more localised 'process' or 'relationship' variables other than system structure alone, it is possible to construct a model that can explain variance in the occurrence and form of military capability mutualisation. 
The theoretical model posits that military capability mutualisation occurs at various temporal and functional distances from the frontline of operations and, where concrete interests are highly aligned, even on the frontline itself. Hypotheses from the model are thus tested against several capability mutualisation initiatives under three contemporary bilateral frameworks: the Franco-British ‘Lancaster House’ Treaties of 2010, the BENELUX Declaration of 2012 and the German-Netherlands Declaration of 2013. It is shown that while the systemic factors at the heart of neorealist theory remain formidable barriers to capability mutualisation, in certain configurations they can in fact encourage its occurrence and help to underpin mutual confidence in the reliability of a partner and the minimisation of risks of entrapment and abandonment. The theory thus offers both a partial explanation for the phenomenon of capability mutualisation in contemporary Europe as well as a framework for further investigation and guidance as to the prospects of similar initiatives elsewhere.
Date of Award1 Jun 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorChristoph Meyer (Supervisor) & Alex Callinicos (Supervisor)

Cite this