How pivotal states use diplomatic ties to build military coalitions

In her new book, Constructing Allied Cooperation, Marina Henke demonstrates the value of networks.

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently proposed the establishment of an international safe zone in Northern Syria. In her new book, Constructing Allied Cooperation, published by Cornell University Press in October 2019, Hertie School Professor of International Relations Marina Henke shows what such a policy would entail: how a military coalition to secure the area could be built.

In a qualitative and quantitative analysis of 80 multilateral military coalitions, she finds that such coalitions rarely emerge naturally, due to common interests or ideas, but are planned and built deliberately by “pivotal states” – states that care most deeply about the construction of such coalitions. Germany’s recent efforts towards Syria could be seen as one example of this.

To successfully recruit coalition partners, Henke argues, pivotal states are required to instrumentalise preexisting institutional and social ties to bargain fellow states into a specific coalition. Bilateral and multilateral networks, which include civilian as well as military ties, constitute an invaluable resource in this process. These ties give pivotal states access to private information about the deployment preferences of potential participants. Moreover, they facilitate issue linkages and side payments and allow states to overcome problems of credible commitments. Finally, pivotal states can use common institutional contacts as cooperation brokers and can convert common institutional venues into fora for coalition negotiations.

Henke presents evidence and arguments for revisiting the conventional wisdom about how collective action in the security sphere is achieved. Her work also generates new insights into who is most likely to join a given multilateral intervention and what factors influence the strength and capacity of particular coalitions.

Moreover, the book comes at a time when longstanding multi-lateral cooperation projects are being challenged in many parts of the world, from Brexit in the UK to Donald Trump’s America First movement in the US.

"International security cannot be delinked from more mundane forms of cooperation,” Henke says.“Evidence shows that multilateral military coalitions thrive or fail depending on the breadth and depth of existing social and diplomatic networks.”

Order a copy of the book here.

Read Marina Henke’s recent piece in the Washington Post’s academic blog, The Monkey Cage, on how the recent US pull-out from its decade-long coalition with Kurdish fighters in Syria will impact future US coalition-building.

More about Marina Henke

  • Marina Henke , Professor of International Relations | Director, Centre for International Security