Alliance dilemma: the fear of abandonment and entrapment

In document The Evolution of the ROK - U.S. Relations: A Multi-Method Analysis (Page 41-45)

3. Alliance Theories

3.2. Issues in the maintaining of asymmetric alliance

3.2.2. Alliance dilemma: the fear of abandonment and entrapment

As mentioned earlier, an asymmetric alliance is the bargaining between autonomy and security. Since each state tries to maximize its benefit and minimize its costs, there are always some strains between the two allies. These strains are called the dilemma of alliance, “abandonment,” and “entrapment” (Snyder 1984, 466).

According to Snyder (1984, 466), abandonment is defection. However, defection might present itself in a variety of forms such as the following: an ally may ‘switch sides’

by realigning with the opponent, de-align completely, revoke the alliance contract, fail to provide the promised commitments, or fail to provide support in contingencies. No matter

how the alliance security is firm, the fear of being abandoned is ever-present. If an ally fails to provide enough benefits for the other, the risk of betrayal of the other is even bigger. On the other hand, the other side of the dilemma is entrapment. Snyder (1984, 467) defines entrapment as a state being pulled into a conflict over an ally’s interests that it does not share or only partly shares. Each state and their interests do not always overlap perfectly and when states share interests, it is not always the case that those interests are valued in the same manner. Thus, entrapment is present when a state values the

preservation of the at-risk alliance more than the cost of being involved in a fight over interests that do not match. The risk of entrapment varies with the ally’s dependence on the alliance, the strength of the commitment, and the degree of aggressiveness. For example, if a state highly depends on the alliance, the risk of entrapment cannot be

avoided. If a country has a strong commitment to the ally, it has higher risk of entrapment.

Furthermore, if a state trusts its ally’s commitment, the state can be more aggressive and intransigent with opponents (Snyder 1984, 467).

Interestingly, the risks of abandonment and entrapment are inversely related. If a state tries to reduce the risk of abandonment though strong commitment, that attempt increases the risk of entrapment at the same time. Since strong commitment of a state tends to restrain its own option to change the strategy, firm commitment has the

counterproductive effect on its strategy for bargaining. Therefore, states usually want to avoid showing clear and strong commitment to keep favorable bargaining leverage

(Snyder 1984, 467-468).

Snyder (1984, 472-475) suggests five important determinants affecting states’

bargaining strategies. First of all, the relative dependence on the alliance is the most important. Here, the dependence is decided by how much one needs the ally’s aid. A state that is more dependent on the alliance has stronger motivation to keep an alliance.

Therefore, this more dependent state perceives that the cost of abandonment is higher than that of entrapment.

Next, the degree of strategic interest is important. Snyder (1984, 472) defines the strategic interests as “an interest in keeping ally’s power resources out of the opponent’s hand…Since it refers not the need for aid in case one is attacked, but to the need to block an increase in the adversary’s power.” This component was very important during the Cold War. The U.S. and Soviet Union tried to keep their allies that had strategic interests in their boundary not to be taken away from each other. Also, the strategic interest is very important for a small state to obtain aid from a great state in asymmetric alliance. If a small state does not have a strategic interest of a strong state, its perception of the fear of abandonment will be high or in the worst case, it is not easy to find an ally to support it.

On the other hand, if a small state has strategic interests of a great state, the small state can have a better bargaining position. This is because the existence and importance of a strong state’s strategic interests are well known, and extremely lessens a small state’s fear of abandonment and a strong state’s leverage over its weak partners (Snyder 1984, 473).

The third element is the degree of explicitness of the alliance agreement. As mentioned above, an alliance based on formal pact lowers the risk of abandonment because the explicitness of the alliance limits the options that a state chooses. Therefore, a state preferably tries to keep vague or ambiguous commitments. In an asymmetrical alliance, a weak state tries to lessen the risk of abandonment by having a more explicit contract, but this raises the risk of entrapment for the strong state. Fourth, the strategy can be different depending on the allies’ shared interests. If they share few interests, they both fear the risk of entrapment rather than abandonment in a certain case. However, if they shared many interests, they are willing to take the risk to keep the alliance. Finally, these decisions are based on an ally’s own and others’ past experiences. The strategies of each state are predictable based on one’s history (Snyder 1984, 474) because each learns from their experience; this helps states to balance the costs and benefits of an alliance (Reiter 1994).

However, these five determinants have an issue-specific effect on each state’s strategy. Also, the relative effects of these five determinants have unique patterns in asymmetric alliances. A weak state definitely depends more on the alliance. Thus, the fear of abandonment is higher than entrapment. In other words, the weak state should comply with an alliance even though it faces higher costs of entrapment. In this case, the costs of entrapment that a weak state endures are bigger because a weak state usually tends to share only a small portion of the great state’s interests. Generally, a weak state’s interest

is peripheral from that of a strong state that has global interests (Snyder 1984, 484).

Furthermore, if a weak state does not have similar strong strategic interests, the fear of abandonment is ever-present. Therefore, weak states generally want to build a strong alliance based on an explicit formal contract in order to ensure their own security. In sum, the fear of abandonment and entrapment is bigger for a weak state than a strong state.

On the other hand, sometimes this is not true. For example, the alliance dilemma is weak under a bipolar system such as in the period of the Cold War. In the Cold War period, the strategic interests of the great power are so clear that even a small state does not much feel the risk of abandonment. Also, even weaker states can have some leverage to restrain the superpower’s aggressiveness decreasing the risk of entrapment “by

appealing to consensus norms or by exploiting the superpower’s need for collective legitimization” without the fear of abandonment (Snyder 1984, 485). However, even in the bipolar structure, when their common security interests become less robust through specific movement of reconciliation such as détente between two superpowers, the alliance dilemma appears again. The détente between two strong adversaries makes small states feel the anxiety of abandonment.

In document The Evolution of the ROK - U.S. Relations: A Multi-Method Analysis (Page 41-45)