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International Alliances in the Power Cycle Theory of State Behavior

Author(s): Daniel Y. Chiu

Reviewed work(s):
Source: International Political Science Review / Revue internationale de science politique, Vol.
24, No. 1, Power Cycle Theory and Global Politics. Cycle de pouvoir et politique mondiale
(Jan., 2003), pp. 123-136
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
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InternationalPoliticalScienceReview(2003), Vol 24, No. 1, 123-136


International Alliances in the Power Cycle Theory

of State Behavior


ABSTRACT. This studyproposes that criticalpoints are causallyrelated to

the formation of alliances, and that the relationshipbetween alliances
and war can be better understood as a relationship between critical
points and war,with alliancesas an intermediatevariable.At these points
of structuralchange in the system,stateswill seek protectionagainstthe
uncertaintyof massivealterationsin their futureforeign policy roles and
securitypositions by forming alliances. Statisticalanalysesof empirical
data and historicalcase-studymaterialsupport this link between power
cycletheoryand alliancetheory.
Keywords:* Alliance * Power cycle * War * World order

This study uses power cycle theory as a framework to analyze the formation of
international alliances. In this framework, critical points represent abrupt, non-
linear changes in a state's "cycle of power and role" relative to other states, and
these shifts (inversions) in the trend are the basis of structural change in the
system. A principal hypothesis of this study is that such structural change in world
politics is responsible for precipitating the formation of alliances as states seek
protection against the uncertainty of massive alterations in their future foreign
policy roles and security positions. This study also examines the effects of these
military alliances on the incidence of war following major change in the structure
of the international system, and the impact of alliances on the escalation of wars
once they are triggered. All relationships are first discussed in theoretical terms.
Hypotheses and questions raised by the theory are then tested using statistical
analyses of quantitative, empirical data and historical case-study material.
The study proposes that critical points are causally related to the formation of
alliances. Moreover, the relationship between alliances and war can be better
understood as a relationship between critical points and war with alliances as an
intermediate variable. Alliances play an important role in the power cycle theory,

0192-5121 (2003/01) 24:1, 123-136; 028619 ? 2003 International Political Science Association
SAGEPublications (London, Thousand Oaks, CAand New Delhi)
124 InternationalPoliticalScienceReview24(1)

and the effort to link alliance theory and power cycle theory is not expected to
significantly change the dynamics or expectations of the broader framework.
Alliance theory is actually compatible with this broader framework and
complementary in many respects.

Alliance Formation
According to the traditional alliance literature (Waltz, 1979; Morgenthau, 1985:
201), alliances are formed to balance power in an international system. Moreover,a
primary prerequisite for alliance cohesion is the presence of an alliance ideology
(Liska, 1968: 27), so that alliances are formed mostly "against,and only derivatively
for someone or something" (12). The alliance goal is to balance against another
power or coalition of powers in order to maintain security and stability.
Riker (1962: 182) posits that an equilibrium (dynamic, not static) is reached
when power is balanced, and that alliances are built "economically."Prospective
members consider the "marginal utility" of joining an alliance and base their
decision on the expectation of rewardsversus potential costs. Similarly,the size of
the alliance will be no larger than necessary to balance power, creating a
"minimum winning coalition." Altfeld and Bueno de Mesquita (1979) and Altfeld
(1984) build on the theories of Riker and Liska, proposing that alliances serve the
utility of countries, that states will only form alliances if they expect the benefits of
such a decision to outweigh the potential costs and risks. Using game theory,
Snyder (1984) proposes that states make their decision to form alliances based on
what they perceive as the expected, relative payoffs. Therefore, states will form or
join alliances if they expect the payoffs from this decision to be greater than the
payoffs from not forming such an alliance.
These latter approaches do not necessarily conflict with balance-of-power
theories of alliance. Balancing behavior may well serve the utility of states and
provide the best payoffs (Walt, 1987: 9-10). But there are significant limitations.
Regarding the formation of minimum winning coalitions, Russett (1968: 286)
warns that "while the theory rests upon an impressive piece of deductive
reasoning, and some bits of empirical evidence as well, its limitations are severe."
When more than just a few actors are involved, it is almost impossible to
determine what a minimum winning coalition would or should be. The
complexities of measurement, weighting, perceptions, and levels of commitment
are multiplied by both the numbers of allies and adversaries being considered.
Russett notes that game theory models of alliances assume a zero-sum, "terminal"
situation with fairly clear information on relative costs and payoffs, but
international politics is not generally regarded as zero-sum and is "a continuous
game, not an episodic one" (290). Moreover, communication and perceptions are
usually imperfect, which makes knowledge of relative payoffs difficult, especially
for individual members of an alliance.
Instead of looking at alliances simply as mechanisms to balance power in an
international system, Walt (1987: 17-49) sees alliances arising as a response to
"threat."He defines "threat"generally as a combination of capabilities (power)
and intent (both motivations and perceptions). "Geographic proximity" and
"offensive power" are also included as components of threat. Balancing against a
threat, he says, is far more common than bandwagoning. He concludes that the
greater the threat, the less ideology and common culture matter, reasserting the
central role of threats in alliance formation.
CHIU:InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 125

The literature on alliances demonstrates an evolution of alliance formation

theories over time. Nye (1990) suggests potential evolution in policy as well as
theory in envisioning possibilities for the future at the end of the Cold War:
Balance of power does not mean that political leaders must maximize the
powerof their own statesin the short run. Bandwagoning-that is,joining the
stronger rather than the weakerside-might produce more immediatespoils
... Proximityand perceptionsof threatalso affect the wayin which balancing
of power is played out . .. Geography and psychology are both important
factorsin geopolitics (Nye, 1990:36-37).
Reiter (1996: 2) introduces the concept of "learning" to the analysis of alliances.
He proposes that "states often decide between neutrality and alliance based on
their historical experiences," and that the historical experience of the state plays a
more important role in the decision to form alliances than the level of threat or
the balance of power in the system.

Alliances and War

Do alliances contribute to peace or increase the likelihood of war? Some view
alliances as increasing fears and tensions; others believe that alliances are stabilizing
and deter aggression. Scholars have subjected both views to careful scrutiny.
Singer and Small (1979) hypothesized a relationship between the number of
alliances and the amount of war in the international system. They believed that
alliances were an indication of polarity in the system; the higher the polarity, the
greater would be the chances of war. They found this direct correlational
relationship between alliances and war in the 20th, but not the 19th, century. But
as Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, Jr (1997: 324) point out, the post-Napoleonic
European system is very different than the "century of total war," and hence
alliances may be less significant regarding the incidence of war than the difference
in type of international system (Waltz, 1979). The study by Most, Starr and Siverson
(1989) accounts for the effect of alliance on war in terms of conflict diffusion.
With the important exception of the 19th century, Levy (1981: 597-598) shows
that more than half of all alliances in each century since 1495 have led to war.
Gibler and Vasquez (1998) find that the probability that an alliance will lead to
war within 5 years is about 0.40. Vasquez (2000: 395; 1993: 171) has concluded that
alliance in general is a step to war rather than a contribution to peace. Gibler and
Vasquez (1998) have refined the analysis of alliances and war association by
partialling out some of the possible influences. They find that when states forming
alliances have been successful in prior wars, the probability of subsequent war
increases. Similarly, when major states enter alliances, the probability of war
Thus, these scholars and others have pointed the way toward the causal
questions: Whydo alliances seem to increase the probability of war? Why has the
balance of power failed to prevent war during major structural change?

The Power Cycle Theory of Alliances and Balance

failures of the balance
Power cycle theory originated in a study of three system-wide
of power (Doran, 1971), that is, the "hegemonic wars" of Hapsburg Spain, Louis
XIV, and Napoleon; and Doran further developed and tested the theory in
126 InternationalPoliticalScienceReview24(1)

assessing the two world wars of the 20th century. A motivating premise, Doran
(1969: 2; quoted in 1995: 181) explains, was that analysis of long-term relative
power changes "might provide a better understanding of the mechanism of
systemic adjustment which must precedeand complementany external alliances
formed." Theoretical analysis of long-term relative change led to a dynamic
concept of generalized equilibrium as a complement to the balance of power.
Integral to the power cycle logic is its explanation of how and why alliances
have been misused. This reasoning appears more fully in Doran (1989, 1991,
Even if properlyimplemented,the balance of power alone is insufficientto
prevent major war. It is necessary as an instrument to halt or counter
aggressionin the short term,but it does not cope effectivelywith the rise and
decline of states.Designedto bolsterthe weakerand to oppose the powerof
the stronger state, balance-of-power logic is often the structuraloppositeof the
strategynecessaryto maintain long-termequilibriumin the system.It beliesthe needfor
systemic of role.Requiredis a more dynamicviewof statecraftand a
more completeconceptof foreignpolicybehavior(Doran,1995:183,emphasis
Assessing the failures of balance and inappropriate alliance strategyprior to World
War I, power cycle analysis "exposes the flaws"of the balance of power:
When a statefaces superiorpoweraccompaniedby suspectedhostile intent, it
alwaysprescribesexternalallianceaggregationor coalitionformation.This is
both the strength of the balance of power prescriptionand the crux of its
greatest weakness .... Whiledefensesmust alwaysbemaintainedagainst aggression,
in thelong term,risingpowercannotbeartificiallyhalted,and decliningpowercannotbe
However,the balance of power attemptedand promoted
preciselythese objectives(185-186,emphasisadded).
World War I resulted from an "attempt to constrain rising power" (186). Rather
than "allowing role to shift to the ascendant Germany, the rigidity of the balance-
of-power system prevented its occurrence" and reinforced "the illusion that
adjustment was not necessary." By 1914, when a "confluence of critical changes
exposed and tested the contradictions in the system, war became by default
the only apparent instrument availableto offset the severe structuralstrains."In the
next section, this article briefly explores how such critical changes provoked the
movement to war.
While emphasizing that World War I showed that "states ignore power-role
equilibrium at their peril and that rising power cannot be halted," Doran (1995:
187-188) warns that the misuse of the balance of power does not mean that the
balance of power should be discarded. In fact, "WorldWar II showed that states
ignore the balance of power at their peril and that illegitimate interests must never
be appeased." In Doran's view, "a firm policy of balance and opposition" to Hitler
was required, and "appeasement was exactly the wrong policy to follow." Again
there was a too static understanding of the balance of power.
In brief, Doran argues, by using "external aggregation of power [alliances] ...
both to halt the advance of an ascendant state and to shore up the fortunes of a
declining state,"without making a distinction "between legitimate and illegitimate
interests of the rising and declining states," the balance-of-power "formula to
preserve stability ... was a recipe for cataclysmic misjudgment when the system
CHIU: InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 127

was in rapid transformation. The consequence was intense structural strain within
the central system" (1995: 186). The nature of this "structural strain" is the
underlying causal variable in the power cycle theory of structural change and
foreign policy behavior.
Doran believes critical points explain both the causes of war and how wars
escalate (horizontally and vertically) into major, systemic wars. He proposes a
direct, causal relationship between critical points and the major wars in which
states become involved. He specifically notes three sources of instability at critical
points: (1) suddenly discovered non-linearity in expected power and role, (2)
fissures between power and foreign policy role, and (3) inversion of force
expectations. These three sources of instability reinforce each other during critical
points and substantially increase the probability of major war. This risk is further
heightened by the presence of critical points for multiple states during the same
time period. Such a "critical disequilibrated systems transformation" is identified
as "the structural cause for the massive world wars of history" (Doran, 1991:
107-110, 121).

How Non-Linear Change in Power Precipitates Alliance

Thus, according to power cycle theory, the conditions created by passage through
critical points on the power cycles of states, and the role and/or status
disequilibrium that may result, have historically been associated with alliances.
This study contends that power cycle theory has relevance in explaining the
formation of alliances. Insofar as the shifting trends in power share affect the
perception of threats and concerns about power balancing, power cycle theory
holds consequence for alliance formation. As Doran argues (see below), the
massive uncertainty states face at critical points is likely to stimulate alliance
formation and the potential for realignment.
Key to the decision response is why it is difficult for states to adjust to changes
in expectations at critical points. All of the critical points share similar "decision
characteristics" (Doran, 1991: 107-108). "Shock, uncertainty, over-reaction, and
exaggerated foreign policy behavior in the face of what is felt to be a massive crisis
of security and opportunity" all result in what Doran calls an "inversion of force
expectations." At critical points, a state has "a tendency to misread as threatening,
signals that have no threat content," and this misperception leads it to act in ways
"which are interpreted by others as threatening." This results in a classic "security
dilemma" and can escalate out of control, leading to "force expansion and conflict
diffusion throughout the central system"which broadens the scope of conflict and
can increase its severity as well. Due to the "monumental structural uncertainty of
a critical interval," states are likely to respond with extreme means and use
maximum force. Because the risks to future security are considered to be great,
"an increase in force use is thought to yield gains that exceed costs" (110). These
are conditions that stimulate alliance formation, and balance-of-power failure.
At the state level, alliance behavior augments state power but remains distinct
from it (Doran, 1991: 53-54), and any increase in power derived from alliance
membership is conditional and can be withdrawn at any time. Any power derived
from alliance is also extremely issue-specific and often limited in scope as to how,
when, and where it may be applied. It is dependent as much on intent as upon
capability and is therefore very difficult to measure as to effect and reliability. The
state uses alliance, according to Doran, to protect its security. It hopes that alliance
128 InternationalPoliticalScienceReview24(1)

will result in peace as well, by deterring aggression. But if deterrence fails, then
the state must rely on defense which involves the use of force on behalf of security;
peace will have been foregone. Alliance inevitably carries with it the prospect or
possibility of entanglement in war.
At the systems level, Doran (1991: 148-150) likewise sees alliances as both
problematic and a provider of solutions. He does not believe that alliances or
coalitions are capable of"equilibrating" international systems in the long term, for
they deal only with short-term changes in the balance of power. In fact, as
occurred in the period before World War I, attempts via alliances to "constrain
rising power" can reinforce "the illusion" that adjustment is not necessary and
worsen the structural strain between power and role throughout the system.
Alliances can rigidify and polarize the system, making war more probable and
more severe (139). But when "nuances are employed" (185), alliances can adjust
(in terms of conditions, commitments, and membership) to accommodate for
rising and declining states.
There is some reason to believe that the alignment of alliances formed as a
result of critical points (whether the state experiencing the critical point will form
an alliance or other states will form an alliance against it) may depend, at least in
part, on the specific critical point. Each critical point has some unique
characteristics, described by Doran (1991: 104-107) as follows: "birththroesof a
majorpower" (lower turning point); "traumaof constrained ascendancy" (firstinflection);
"traumaof expectationsforegone" (upper turning point); "hopesand illusionsof thesecond
wind"(second inflection); and "throes of demiseas a majorpower" (lower turning point).
These critical points can be grouped into two basic categories. After both lower
turning points and the second inflection, a state's outlook (based on its
projections and expectations with regard to changes in relative power) is generally
getting better (Type I). After the first inflection and the upper turning point, a
state's outlook is worse than it was immediately preceding the critical point (Type
II). The question arises whether alliance behavior conforms to this division.
During Type I critical points, other countries might seek to counterbalance a
rising challenger or potentially resurgent power. Conversely,perhaps during Type
II critical points, a state could seek to augment its relative power (which is now
perceived to be constrained) or at least stave off further decline through alliances
with other countries.
But the dynamics at critical points are complex and interactive between the
state and the rest of the system, vis-a-visboth power and role, so that it may be
difficult to associate specific critical points or types of critical points (whether the
outlook looks better or worse) with alliances either for or against the state in
question (alignment). This study will show the difficulty of predicting alliances at
each point.
During its "birth throes as a major power," the state begins rapid growth in
relative power and may adopt an "aggressive foreign policy" that can create a
"sense of threat on the part of neighbors who fear borders are insecure" and see
the state "asa threat to the stability of the system" (104). Other states might form
alliances to balance against the threat from a state at its first critical point. But,
Doran points out, the state at that point might also believe its role is being
restricted by the system. It may view its neighbors "asconstraining its international
opportunity and refusing to confer upon it the status and role it feels it has
achieved capability wise." The state could further "fear retaliation from more
powerful states capable of intervening against it." Hence, the state at this critical
CHIU:InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 129

point might also have incentives to join or form an alliance in the face of
perceived threats and imbalance between power and role.
The "trauma of constrained ascendancy" at the first inflection also involves
reasons for alliances of either alignment to form. The state is shocked when "its
heady growth rate abruptly and without warning declines." It may become
concerned that its "projected future role" or "place within the hierarchy" of the
system will not be achieved as anticipated due to emerging constraints on its
relative growth. The state may seek alliances to augment its relative power and
position in the face of other actors who appear "increasingly reluctant to yield in
foreign policy matters" (194). Other countries may view this state as "an ascendant
state that appears aggressive," especially with regard to seeking a greater role.
Threat and counter-threats worsen the stress because "security involving core
values of a number of major states" (105) are at stake, increasing the probability of
alliance formation both for and against the state.
At the upper turning point, the state may seek alliances to protect itself from
what it perceives as an increasingly threatening environment. Conversely, a state
that does not believe its role has been commensurate with its relative power in the
system up to this point "maytrigger a war in order to try to reverse this decline and
fulfill its aspirations for leadership" (105). Other countries may perceive the state
confronting the "trauma of expectations foregone" as a threat to the rest of the
system, and they may have an increased interest in forming an alliance to protect
themselves against this new threat.
The "hopes and illusions of the second wind" (second inflection) result in
extremely contradictory forces on the state's foreign policy direction. If the state
considers these brighter prospects as an opportunity to "rescue its fallen status," it
may "adopt a more assertive role." This makes the state "an extremely
unpredictably ally" and a potential threat to the system, which may then align
against it. Its power still declining, the state "continues to fear more powerful rivals
attempting to dislodge it from interests and responsibilities." This may lead it to
seek alliance to balance against these perceived threats, especially if it also feels it
is no longer "in a position where it must continue to make concessions to other
states in the system" (104-105).
Lastly, the "throes of demise as a major power" at the end of the cycle involves
perceptions and incentives for both state and system that yield differing potential
alignments in the system. This point is a recovery from a long decline, so there is
more likely to be an interest surplus (role aspirations that exceed relative power)
rather than an interest deficit (more power than status in the system). If a state
sees this turnaround as a chance "to rescue the vestiges of a past role of high
visibility,"it may begin to act in ways that are threatening. Otherwise, "the disparity
between power and interest encourages the state to seek powerful allies that it can
entangle on behalf of the defense of its role and position, largely an historical
legacy." Doran believes this kind of "short-term balancing of power" with alliances
rather than "long-term adjustments to structure" (106-107) substantially increases
the probability of major war.
Where Doran disagrees with the balance-of-power theorists is in the objective of
alliance. Riker and Waltz argue that alliances serve only to balance power and will
dissolve once this equilibrium has been reached. Doran does not believe that
states will act simply to balance power in the system. Rather, states will act
(through alliances if necessary) to achieve their role aspirations or to protect
against threats perceived at critical points of radical structural change.
130 InternationalPoliticalScienceReview24(1)

But power cycle theory is compatible with Walt's balance-of-threat theory of

alliance formation. At critical points, the perception of threats in the international
system becomes pronounced. A change in role aspirations, or the expectation of
such change, creates a new security situation. "The state either perceives this new
world view to be threatening, or, in response to changing foreign policy
circumstance, acts in ways that threaten others" (Doran, 1991: 330). Critical
points appear to create the conditions under which alliances are born. At critical
points, states become more likely to form alliances due to an abrupt and massive
shift in their expectations regarding the distribution of relative power, which
exacerbates perceptions of threat and deepens concerns with potential status
This analysis suggests, therefore, that critical points may, because of change at
both the state and systemic levels, stimulate alliance formation and may increase
the numbers of alliances and the size of alliances. This does not mean that all
alliances are necessarily the result of critical points. There may be other
idiosyncratic reasons for the formation of a particular alliance. But if the
foregoing analysis is correct, alliance formation should generally follow the onset
of a critical point on the state power cycle.

Data and Methodology

Several carefully collected and collated data sets provide the foundation for the
empirical part of this study. First is a list (Doran, 1991: 133) of the critical points
occurring on the power cycles of the major states between 1814 and 1985. Second
is a set of alliances (Small and Singer, 1990: 169-175, 183-189; Gibler, 1996)
involving mutual-defense treaties for these states in that period. Third are two data
sets (Singer and Small, 1972; Levy, 1983: 72-75) on interstate wars involving the
major powers in that period.
The primary hypothesis considered here is that critical points increase the
probability of alliance formation (Hypothesis 1). Both the independent
(incidence of a critical point) and dependent (alliance formation) variables are
dichotomous; they either occur or they do not. Given these characteristics, the
Logit model for logistic regression is the most appropriate for examining the
significance of this relationship (Beck, Katz, and Tucker, 1997; Norusis, 1997).
This model estimates the probability that an event occurs for a dichotomous
dependent variable; "dummy variables" are lagged to account for delays in
perception of critical points. Regression/correlation analysis and measures of
association have also been used to back up the findings of the primary model,
sometimes employing non-parametric statistics where the data distributions have
been shown to be highly skewed.
The data set includes up to 170 cases (based on annual observations).
Observations using 5-year intervals still yield more than 30 cases with
measurements for a number of variables. These cases include 23 critical points,
over 50 alliances, along with data on the duration, intensity, and magnitude of 31
wars involving the 9 major powers across nearly two centuries of history. There is
thus a substantial amount of quantitative, empirical data available to test the five
basic hypotheses regarding how abrupt, massive non-linearities in the movement
up and down the state power cycle elicit alliance formation.
CHIU: InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 131

Findings on Critical Points and Alliance Formation

Hypothesis1: the incidenceof a criticalpoint increasestheprobabilityof allianceformation
at or after the critical point (1814-1985). Using the Sign Test for dichotomous
variables (McNemar's Test), the null hypothesis that alliances are equally likely to
occur whether or not a critical point occurs can be rejected. This null hypothesis
can be rejected with a very high degree of confidence since the significance level is
less than 0.0005 in tests with lags of 1, 5 and 10 years, and less than 0.010 for the
same year (99.95 percent and 99 percent confidence levels respectively). The
results were further confirmed using a Chi-Square test of significance for the
relationship between critical points and alliance formation, significant at the 0.05
level (95 percent confidence level). Finally using the Logit model of regression
estimation (Table la), the theoretical assertion that critical points may be a causal
factor regarding alliance formation is statistically significant at the 95 percent
confidence level. Using a Duration Dependent Logit Model, the results were

1. CriticalPoints and AllianceFormation,1814-1985: Resultsof KeyEmpiricalTests

(a) Test of Hypothesis 1:

Standard Logit Model Regression Estimation for Critical Points and Alliance Formation
Estimated coefficient Standard error Significance level
Critical Point 0.9822 0.5077 0.05
Constant -0.4432 0.1777 0.01
Variable: Onset of critical points and alliance formation within one year

(b) Test of Hypothesis 2:

Number of Critical Points and Number of Alliances
Spearman's rho Statistical Number of
correlation coefficient significance valid cases
In Same Year 0.375 <0.0005 (0.000) 152
One Year Later 0.348 <0.0005 (0.000) 151

(c) Test of Hypothesis 3:

Number of Critical Points and Number of Alliance Members
In Same Year 0.318 <0.0005 (0.000) 152
One Year Later 0.298 <0.0005 (0.000) 151

(d) Test of Hypothesis 4:

Number of Alliancesa and Nature of Warsbfollowing Critical Points
Magnitude of Wars 0.336 0.160 19
Severity of Wars 0.360 0.130 19
Intensity of Wars 0.310 0.197 19

(e) Test of Hypothesis 5:

Number of Alliance Members and Nature of Warsbfollowing Critical Points
Magnitude of Wars 0.277 0.001 152
Severity of Wars 0.264 0.001 152
Intensity of Wars 0.234 <0.005 (0.004) 152
Alliances within 1 year after Critical Point. bWarswithin 5 years after Critical Point.
132 International

again significant at better than the 95 percent confidence level. The correlation
suggests that critical points may be causal factors with regard to alliance
Each of the alliance "failures to conform" to the statistical model were then
examined in terms of their diplomatic and historical contexts. Most occurred
during the period of the major wars. Consulting the data set on alliance
formation, it was discovered that an idiosyncrasy of the Small and Singer (1990:
166) cow coding procedure excluded alliances formed during either of the World
Wars unless they "continued in force during the postwar period." The result of
these coding rules is that significant periods of history (particularlyaround World
War I and II) are not covered regarding alliance formation. When the data were
re-tested excluding these periods in which alliance presence had been omitted,
the findings were even more strongly supported statisticallyfor all tests including
the standard Logit and the Duration Dependent Logit models (Chiu, 2000:
119-120, 126-129).

Hypothesis2: a relationshipexistsbetweenan increasein the numberof criticalpoints and

an increasein the numberof alliances. The data distributions employed in this test
were found to be quite sharply skewed both in terms of number of critical points
per year and number of alliances per year. This visual inspection of the
distributions was confirmed by statistical tests for skewedness and kurtosis. Hence
a Spearman's rho test for the relationship was used (Table lb), revealing very
strong support for Hypothesis 2 at the 99.95 percent level.

Hypothesis3: as the numberof criticalpoints in the internationalsystemincreases,the

numberof alliance members(size of alliance) increases.As with the prior test and
distributions, skewedness and kurtosis were present, thus necessitating use of the
non-parametric test Spearman's rho. The findings (Table Ic) in support of
Hypothesis 3 were also strongly significant at the 99.95 percent level. Again
problems of missing alliance data during major wars were addressed, yielding
statistical results that were even more convincing (Chiu, 2000: 137-140).

Hypothesis4: following criticalpoints, the numberof allianceswill be associatedwith the

nature of wars in termsof increasedmagnitude,severity,and intensity.Findings using
Spearman's rho (Table Id) are not statistically significant for this association
although the confidence levels do range between 80 and 87 percent, suggesting
that some patterns may exist but the small sample size precludes statistically
significant results.

Hypothesis5: a relationshipbetweenthe numberof alliancemembers(alliancesize) and the

nature of war following criticalpoints in termsof magnitude,severity,and intensityis
posited. As Table le shows, the findings using Spearman's rho are all statistically
significant. This suggests that the effect of passage through critical points on
increased alliance size is in turn transmitted to war generation in terms of bigger,
more serious, and more bitter wars. The relationship suspected under Hypothesis
4 is found to be highly prominent under Hypothesis 5 regarding transmission
(diffusion) of the effects of the critical point to major war largely through the size
of alliance rather than through the numberof alliances.
CHIU:InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 133

Alliance, the Power Cycle, and the Implications for World Politics
Is alliance formation the product of sudden, massive structural change on the
power cycle of the state? Do critical points generate alliance? This study finds that
there is a statistically significant relationship between the incidence of critical
points and alliance formation. Its quantitative analyses have determined that
alliance formation is statistically dependent on the incidence of critical points in
the historical data. The regression analysis treats the two variables asymmetrically,
and mathematically distinguishes between explanatory and dependent variables.
To what extent can causation be attributed in these findings? As Maurice
Kendall explains, "a statistical relationship, however strong and however
suggestive, can never establish causal connection: our ideas of causation must
come from outside statistics, ultimately from some theory or other" (Gujarati,
1995: 20). In this case, the causal nature of the relationship found in the data
between critical points and alliance formation is supported by theory, the
temporal sequence of events, and the regression models used to test this
hypothesis. Therefore, while all of this does not necessarily mean that critical
points cause the formation of alliances, it does constitute significant, empirical
support for this proposal.
Aside from the fact that no external factor that may make both critical points
and alliances more likely is immediately apparent, such a possibility may not be
problematic for these specific hypotheses and power cycle theory as a whole. The
regression model used to test Hypothesis 1 mathematically and specifically
establishes some degree of dependence for alliance formation on the incidence of
critical points, at statistically significant levels. Moreover, even if there is some
other variable influencing these relationships, it may actually be subsumed by the
dynamics involved with the incidence of critical points.
As the theoretical analysis showed regarding power cycle theory itself, critical
points involve a number of forces in international relations that are often noted as
contributing to the formation of alliances. Changes in relative power (and thus
the balance of power), changes in the rates of growth, and increases in the
perception of threats have all been examined individually as causes of alliance
formation. To the extent that critical points include all of these important changes
in the international system, they may serve as markers or indicators of a
convergence of dynamics. This means that even if critical points are not
themselves directly causal with regard to alliances, they may still be representative
of other changes which make alliances more likely. Only if future research found
alliances to precede the occurrence of the critical point (the opposite of these
findings) would the notion of critical points as "markers" of alliances have
grounds to supplant the notion strongly supported here, theoretically and
empirically, of critical points as "cause"of alliances.
The short period of time between the explanatory and the dependent variables
in this analysis may detract somewhat from the theoretical basis of causation. As
Doran (1991: 113) notes, examining the effects of critical points using a short time-
period "implies theoretically that both perception and behavioral response are
abruptly sensitive at the critical points." This extreme sensitivity to the occurrence
of critical points by decision-makers implies that it should not take a long period
of time for the results of a critical point to manifest themselves in foreign policy.
The shorter time-periods found in this study between critical points and alliance
formation, therefore, may not be unusual or problematic. Doran (1991: 114-115)
134 InternationalPoliticalScienceReview24(1)

also examines much smaller intervals of time when he analyzes the probability of
major war involvement as a function of time after incidence of critical points,
finding that the size of those wars "is greatest as the state first confronts an
uncertain and troubling change in its relative power and systemic role ... [so that]
the impact of the critical point is in fact quite abrupt."
It is also possible that some reactions are more likely to occur sooner than
others are. Important but less risky decisions (such as the choice to form an
alliance) may be more readily and quickly made. The conditions for more
momentous and potentially dangerous decisions (like the decision to go to war)
may take more time to develop. The international circumstances required for a
country to consider alliance formation may arise more rapidly after a critical point
than the conditions which would lead a country to go to war. That is, a state may
feel the need to form an alliance before it feels the need to go to war.
These and other limitations on the analysis, noted in Chiu (2000), do not
appear to substantivelychange the conclusions of the study, though they may have
some implications for both the interpretation and generalizability of these
findings in theoretic terms. In fact, the limitations are mitigated by a number of
major considerations. Some outliers (cases not explained by the hypothesis) are to
be expected in any statistical analysis, particularly when observed (rather than
controlled) data is used. The case study material demonstrates that many of these
outliers can be explained to varying degrees by a variety of idiosyncratic and
methodological considerations. In some cases, critical points and alliances may
have been related, but the statistical methods available were unable to isolate this
relationship. In other cases, despite the fact that at least one major power was
involved, the issues involved (such as the support of newly independent former
colonies) appeared to have little to do with the central system. Moreover, a
number of the outliers are related to the missing data due to coding procedures.
Finally, the Logit model indicates that the incidence of a critical point will
result in approximately a 63 to 75 percent probability that alliance formation will
follow. These substantial odds provide substantial evidence that critical points are
a causal factor for alliance formation. However, they do not mean that critical
points are the only reason why alliances form; nor does power cycle theory make
that claim.
In sum, the causal relationship between the incidence of critical points and the
formation of alliances largely confirms power cycle theory's explanation of the
dynamic during a critical interval. Conversely, it could be said that this
relationship confirms several of the reasons for alliance formation cited in the
literature on alliance theory. Similarly, the statistically significant findings
regarding the number of critical points and the number of alliances and alliance
members provide some additional evidence in support of the theory's contention
that the uncertainty, threat perception, and inversion of force expectations only
increases as the number of critical points increases. Absence of a relationship
between the type of critical point and the alignment of subsequent alliance
formation conforms with the expectations of the theory. And the mixed findings
on alliances and war following critical points also provide empirical evidence in
support of the power cycle theory.
Although alliance formation following critical points has been only somewhat
stabilizing, no significant relationship between alliance formation and the
incidence of war is found. This suggests that alliance formation is neither
necessarily stabilizing nor destabilizing during the critical interval. Doran believes
CHIU: InternationalAlliancesand StateBehavior 135

that alliance policy and how it is wielded are more important for stability than is
alliance formation itself. In particular, alliance formation is not an especially
effective tool for dealing with issues of status disequilibrium. As Doran argues
extensively, especially regarding the European alliances established prior to World
War I, alliances used to simply offset the effects of critical points, while they
maintain the peace, create an illusion of systemic adjustment and exacerbate the
disequilibrium, making a massive war more likely. Doran's exclusion of alliance
formation as a significant factor for stability following critical points continues to
seem appropriate. Power cycle theory, unlike some approaches in alliance theory,
links instability to the presence of critical points rather than to alliance formation
or its absence.
Some of the strongest support for power cycle theory may come from the
convergence of the findings on critical points, alliances, and war. The findings on
alliances and the nature of war combined with the findings on the number of
critical points and the number of alliances or alliance members provides empirical
evidence in support of the principal proposal in power cycle theory: that risk of
major war is particularly acute with multiple critical points. These findings may
help identify alliances as the mechanism of horizontal and vertical escalation,
particularly when multiple critical points are present.

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Biographical Note
DANIELY. CHIU is a Senior Associate at DFI Government Services, a research and
consulting firm in Washington, DC. His research focuses primarily on strategic
issues including deterrence, defense, and proliferation. He also has done
extensive work in East Asian Studies, force structure analyses, and national security
strategy. He received his PhD in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins
University and his BA in Political Science from McGill University. ADDRESS:DFI
International, 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20036,