Military alliances keep the peace

RICE (US) — Countries that enter into defense pacts with other nations are less likely to be attacked—and are not more likely to attack others.

For the study, published in the journal Foreign Policy Analysis, researchers analyzed global defense agreements from 1816 to 2001.

“We were interested in analyzing policy prescriptions that leaders of countries can adopt that might make war—and also militarized conflicts short of war—less likely,” says Ashley Leeds, associate professor of political science at Rice University.

“War is costly, most importantly in terms of lives lost, but also in terms of financial resources, destruction of productive capacity and infrastructure, and disruption of trade.  As a result, research aimed at discovering policies that can prevent war is valuable.

“We found that when a country enters into a defense pact, it is less likely to be attacked,” Leeds says. “In addition, entering into defense pacts does not seem to make countries more likely to attack other states.”

The research has current policy relevance for the United States and other countries, Leeds says.

“A current policy debate, for instance, is whether Georgia should be accepted as a new member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). If Georgia joins NATO, the U.S. and other NATO countries will be committing to assist Georgia if Georgia is attacked by another state, for instance, Russia.

“Some analysts are concerned about the U.S. making such a commitment, and some believe that having a commitment of assistance from the U.S. could encourage Georgia to behave aggressively toward Russia, making war more likely.

“The study suggests that this is not the most common general pattern. In fact, a defensive commitment to Georgia should, according to the study, make war between Russia and Georgia less likely.”

Currently the United States has many defensive alliances, including with most of the Western Hemisphere states, NATO countries, Japan, South Korea, and Pakistan, among others.

Due to their alliance with the U.S., these states are less likely to be attacked by rivals, and U.S. allies are no more likely to behave aggressively than they would be without a U.S. alliance commitment.

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

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