When International Security Alliances Fail

Map showing NATO member countries

UC Davis political scientists to study what makes alliances like NATO work and what breaks them.

As global security threats have grown more diverse and complex, governments have increasingly turned toward security cooperation, such as alliances like NATO, to protect their mutual interests. Two political scientists at UC Davis have been awarded a $1.37 million, three-year grant from the Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative to study how countries share the burdens of security alliances.

"States that benefit from a security institution may free-ride by failing to contribute their fair share,” said Zeev Maoz, a distinguished professor in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science and an expert in international politics, conflict management and foreign policy decision making. “Other states must shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial, military and political burden to keep the institution afloat.

"In some cases, free-riding results in the collapse of the security institution altogether," Maoz said. "Burden-sharing patterns in NATO are a good example of this problem, and they are currently generating tensions between the United States and some of its NATO allies.”

Side by side portrait photos of UC Davis political science professors
UC Davis political science faculty Zeev Maoz, left, and Brandon Kinne have been awarded a $1.37 million grant from the Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative to study how countries share the burdens of security alliances. It is their second grant from the initiative aimed at improving basic understanding of international security.

Network analysis of agreements since World War II

Beginning this summer, Maoz and Brandon Kinne, an associate professor whose research focuses on international security, will apply network analysis to examine international alliances and defense cooperation agreements from 1945 through 2010. Network analysis is a science that investigates the dynamics of interaction among individuals, groups, organizations, countries and other social units.

“Our project aims to improve our understanding of the conditions that give rise to burden-sharing problems, and to explore their short- and long-term implications,” Kinne said. “We do so by studying multiple forms of security cooperation between states.”

Security ties include high-end alliances, such as NATO, as well as more focused security cooperation agreements between military forces (including military bases, joint training, weapons procurement, research and development), and cooperative agreements between civilian security organizations (among them, intelligence sharing, coordinating activities against organized crime, interdicting transnational terrorist threats).

“We hope to generate both new knowledge on the dynamics and operation of security ties between and among states, and on actual and optimal forms of burden-sharing in common security problems,” Kinne said. “Our project will produce new methods for studying these issues, new data and new insights that will have important policy implications.”

Army looks for new models

The U.S. Army plays a key role in cooperative alliances, such as NATO, to mitigate national security risks in a global conflict environment,” said Lisa Troyer, program manager, social and behavioral sciences at Army Research Office, an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Commands' Army Research Laboratory.

The Army Research Office funding of the project along with the Minerva Research Initiative will enable the development of new models to show how equitable the burden is shared in the alliances across the political, economic, and personnel spectrums. It will also demonstrate the potential impacts of different forms of burden-sharing.

Previous study on network shocks

This is the second grant the pair has received from the Minerva Research Initiative, which was launched by the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2008 to support social science research aimed at improving basic understanding of international security.

Maoz, Kinne and UC Davis colleagues George Barnett (Department of Communication) and Raissa D'Souza (Department of Computer Science) are completing research under a $1.8 million grant awarded in 2015, looking at the effects of shocks like wars and tariff increases on social and political networks.

Maoz, in addition to his faculty appointment at UC Davis, is a distinguished fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. He is director of the Correlates of War Project and former president of the international Peace Science Society.

Kinne, who joined UC Davis in 2014, is an expert on international networks in the areas of militarized conflict, intergovernmental organization and bilateral cooperation.