Nations have powerful reasons to get their military alliances right. When security pacts go well, they underpin regional and global order; when they fail, they spread wars across continents as states are dragged into conflict. We would, therefore, expect states to carefully tailor their military partnerships to specific conditions. This expectation, Raymond C. Kuo argues, is wrong.
Following the Leader argues that most countries ignore their individual security interests in military pacts, instead converging on a single, dominant alliance strategy. The book introduces a new social theory of strategic diffusion and emulation, using case studies and advanced statistical analysis of alliances from 1815 to 2003. In the wake of each major war that shatters the international system, a new hegemon creates a core military partnership to target its greatest enemy. Secondary and peripheral countries rush to emulate this alliance, illustrating their credibility and prestige by mimicking the dominant form.
Be it the NATO model that seems so commonsense today, or the realpolitik that reigned in Europe of the late nineteenth century, a lone alliance strategy has defined broad swaths of diplomatic history. It is not states' own security interests driving this phenomenon, Kuo shows, but their jockeying for status in a world periodically remade by great powers.
Contents and Abstracts
1Transhistorical Patterns in Alliance Strategy
Given the dangers of war, states should carefully tailor their alliances to specific threats and constraints. We expect wide variety in security strategies and pact designs. This expectation is wrong. In any year, 75 percent of states pursue identical alliance strategies. Why do countries ignore their individuated conditions and converge on a single dominant alliance strategy? This chapter presents the book's puzzle, describing patterns in alliance design from 1715–2003.
2The Theory of Strategic Alliance Diffusion
This chapter offers a social theory of diffusion to explain the dominant alliance strategy. Major wars shatter the international system. Into this breach, a new hegemon creates a core pact targeting its central security challenge. This partnership becomes the standard for credible and legitimate security policy in the postwar environment. Secondary countries copy its strategy to demonstrate the credibility of their own alliances. Peripheral nations emulate to acquire international status and prestige.
3The Diffusion of Alliance Strategy: Systemic Patterns and Evidence
This chapter uses quantitative analysis to determine that the core alliance systematically produces the dominant strategy. Seven statistical tests probe the theory's causal foundations and mechanisms, providing reinforcing support for the book's argument. The dominant strategy is statistically linked to social proof and validation, credibility concerns, international norms, and legitimacy.
4Great Powers and Strategic Constraints: The Bismarckian Era, 1873–1890
The book's first case study demonstrates how the dominant strategy constrains even the great powers' alliance choices. It explores the core European pacts between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia from 1873–1890. These countries repeatedly established alliances to solidify their security relations, and they repeatedly failed. Austria-Hungary prevented Germany from displacing it from the heart of Berlin's alliance strategy. Consequently, these three conservative empires were unable to manage deep, intra-allied disputes. Network constraints prevented the fluid, transactional balancing strategies, contributing to World War I's onset.
5Cold War Credibility: NATO, SEATO, and CENTO, 1949–1965
The second case highlights how Middle East and Southeast Asian countries pushed the United States to create NATO-like security institutions in their regions early in the Cold War. These countries evaluated American reliability based on alliance emulation: only strategies matching NATO's design signaled commitment. Washington's refusal to adopt the Atlantic Alliance's strategy in other alliances undermined efforts to demonstrate resolve and consolidate power against the Soviet Union.
6Diffusion to the Periphery: Security Cooperation in Southern Africa, 1992–2004
The final case details the role of alliance construction in southern Africa's status-building policy following the Cold War. Suddenly bereft of superpower patronage, these countries viewed NATO and Europe more broadly as the most effective strategy to foster military security and economic development in their region. But southern Africa was politically unsuited to such a strategy, leading states to seize alliance leadership to advance their own unilateral policies. These countries nevertheless continued to model NATO to legitimate their security strategy and foreign policy goals.
7The Dominant Strategy and Alliance Failure
Copying the dominant strategy reduces the risk of alliance failure by one-third. This chapter leverages statistical methods to link emulation to security behavior. Military partnerships are more reliable and cohesive when they converge on a single, socially accepted standard of credible and legitimate cooperation. Scholars often assume that institutionalization enhances reliability. This chapter demonstrates that such assumption is only true when the core alliance is itself institutionalized. If not, formal coordination can increase the risk of alliance failure by 26.46 percent.
8The Dominant Alliance Strategy: Policy Implications and Theoretical Extensions
This concluding chapter calls for a "NATO in Asia" as the only credible demonstration of American commitment to the region against an assertive China. It draws out policy implications from the theory for international order, the feasibility and drawbacks of transactional foreign policies, and major war.
Raymond C. Kuo is an independent political scientist.
"Following the Leader is an exceptionally timely contribution to the scholarship on international order, and one with important policy observations for today. This is top notch scholarship: the research and analysis are deep and incisive, and conveyed with clear, crisp prose."
~Timothy Andrews Sayle, University of Toronto, author of Enduring Alliance: A History of NATO and the Postwar Global Order
"In Following the Leader, Raymond Kuo implodes the conventional wisdom that states design their alliances to meet their strategic needs. Drawing from cutting-edge network and status theories, Kuo builds a compelling argument about states' social position and alliance strategies, which he tests in cases that span geographical regions and centuries."
~Stacie E. Goddard, Wellesley College
"In this groundbreaking book, Raymond Kuo probes the deep logic and diverse patterns of alliance cooperation. Theoretically innovative, methodologically sophisticated, and rich in historical case studies, Following the Leader illuminates the complex and shifting ways in which states seek security and build alliances."
~G. John Ikenberry, Princeton University