What Good are Alliances in Great Power Relations?
: Explaining the Transformative Nature of Alliance Politics

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


What explains the variation of the nature of alignments in alliance relations?There is a major disagreement over the budgetary costs and benefits of alliances especially in the literature on great power relations. This dissertation fills the gap between the systemic and strategic level of analysis of alliances by introducing a theoretical framework that operationalizes the role of alliances in a great power’s overall grand strategy by analyzing how alliances qualitatively adapt to changing strategic environments. This approach assists us in conceptualizing the qualitative changes that alliances go through which are governed by two independent variables, the availability of the defensive advantage and the strength of the perceived commitment. It illustrates this framework through two historical case studies: the Anglo-American alliance in the Middle East and the U.S.-Japan alliance. By illuminating the primacy of military strategies in explaining alliance politics, it argues that strengthening alliances—namely enhancing the military effectiveness of the alliance—is, in fact, compatible with retrenchment strategies. These findings contribute to the scholarly literature on great power relations, advances debates in U.S. grand strategy, and lay the groundwork for future research that unpacks the versatile roles of alliances such as order-building.
Date of Award1 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorWalter Ladwig III (Supervisor) & Alessio Patalano (Supervisor)

Cite this