Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ally Rules Because Alliances Rule

In response to the US/UK/France attack on Syria and questions about Canada, I tweeted thusly:

Which inevitably produced this tweet from an old colleague and now Naval Reservist on his way to Afghanistan (Naval Comms).

I may not have ten, but here are my rules for ally management (if I had elaborated the rules before the tweet, rule number 3 would probably be a bit further down):
  1. Allies have similar but not identical interests--never forget this as nearly all follows from this rule.
  2. Allies have much fear--whether they might be abandoned or entrapped or both (h/t to Glenn Snyder and Patrica Weitsman as well as Jack Snyder and Thomas Christensen).  They will never be completely reassured.  And remember what Yoda said about fear.
  3. Don't ask allies to do things they can't do.  It just raises the cost of participating for the ally.  So, don't put the German navy on the inner ring of a blockade where the job is to fire on the violating ship--put them on the outer ring where they can alert and coordinate. 
  4. Allies do not always tell you what they can or can't do, what they will or won't do.  So, work more with those you know best when the stakes are high.  Tis why it is ok for Canada to be operating in Latvia with countries with whom they have never been deployed--their job is mostly to exercise and, if the balloon goes up, to die. Unstated caveats matter more when combat will be an on-going thing (Kandahar).
  5. Some allies will almost always be more reliable than other allies. If one is being positive, then this would be the British rule, if one is being negative, then this is the Greek rule.  Whether it is because of domestic institutions (see the Dave and Steve book) or very compatible positions in the world or shared histories or whatever, some countries simply get along better again and again. 
  6. Personalities/relationships matter in alliances. Despite the structure of agreements and the institutions that tie the countries together, how the intent and rules of engagement are interpreted and obeyed depends on the commanders on/near the ground and how they get along.  We can call this the Monty rule if we are being negative or the Ike rule if we are being positive.
  7. Burden-sharing is always uneven.  It may not always be very politicized, but countries will always vary both in what they can bring to the fight and what they actually bring to the fight.  Realize that haranguing one's allies has limited effectiveness.
  8. The intersection of international relations and domestic politics can make alliance management easier or harder.  Unpopular American presidents make it politically difficult for other members of NATO to commit more to joint efforts, and popular ones make it easier.  Was the Bush rule but now the Trump rule.
  9. Napoleon is still wrong--he said it is better to fight a coalition than be in one.  Churchill is still right--the only thing worse than fighting with allies is fighting without them.
  10. Insisting on ten rules is a sign of silly devotion to even numbers.

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