Asst Prof Evan Resnick’s Allies of Convenience: A Theory of Bargaining in US Foreign Policy is one of RSIS’ best works and a future classic in the study of alliances. This was how RSIS Dean Ralph Emmers hailed the book, published by Columbia University Press, as he launched it on 29 November 2019.
Introducing the book, Dr Resnick, Coordinator of RSIS’ US Programme, pointed out that although many observers of US foreign policy lamented Donald Trump’s penchant for castigating friendly democratic allies while cosying up to untrustworthy authoritarian leaders, the American president’s behaviour in this regard was no deviation from that of his predecessors. He noted that US leaders had repeatedly struck alliances of convenience with hostile autocracies to repel graver security threats since their partnership with Louis XVI’s France against the British Empire in the American revolutionary war.
Allies of Convenience argues that the United States has habitually mismanaged its post-1945 alliances of convenience even though it has emerged exponentially more powerful and less imperilled than those allies. The reason is that US leaders have striven to shore up domestic political support for these controversial partnerships by casting allies of convenience in the most benign possible light and, in the process, have sacrificed their bargaining leverage on important security-related disputes. The book illustrates this dynamic through case studies of America’s Cold War-era alliances with China and Pakistan to balance the Soviets and with Iraq to counter Iran. The book also shows through its examination of the US alliance with the United Kingdom during the Korean War that US leaders paradoxically bargain aggressively and successfully with friendly democracies that generate little domestic opposition.
Dr Pascal Vennesson, Head of Research at RSIS’ Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, highlighted three aspects of the book that are salient for scholars and practitioners of foreign policy: (i) it is important to explore domestic politics in explaining international political behaviour; (ii) small states can paradoxically wield considerable influence against great powers such as the United States; and (iii) compromises on security issues that appear less urgent today can have deadly implications tomorrow.