Cooperation amongst states about defence matters

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


April 10, 2023

Cooperation amongst states

M Ali Siddiqi dwells upon an important Cooperation amongst states global activity

As independent yet intensely linked parts of the international system states find it imperative to devise methods and practices of Cooperation amongst states. They usually enter into mutual agreements to coop¬erate in the event of conflict with outside parties. Most of such cooperative agreements are formal in nature and content and are distinguished from informal alignments by their codification in written documents. While states that share interests and tend to coordinate behaviour may be termed aligned only yet states that have made an international legal commitment to assist one another are considered allied to each other. In such cooperative agreements all states retain sovereignty and independence but commit to adjust their policies to meet allied goals. Commitments need not be symmetrical but all the cooperative members must make some mutual commitments that in many cases involve promises of assistance in the event of military conflict with outside parties.

Most cooperative arrangements are regulated through treaties and the specific promises made in these treaties can vary significantly. Some agreements commit the signato¬ries to assist one another in the event a member state is attacked while other commitments provide for states to assist one another in accomplishing goals usually in addition to defensive promises. Many cooperative arrangements however, fall short of guaranteeing active partici¬pation in conflicts that may arise and instead com¬mit the member states to remain neutral and pro¬vide no support for the adversary of an ally in the event the ally becomes involved in conflict or com¬mit the members to consult in the event of threat and make every attempt to produce a coordinated response without any specificity about what that coordinated response might be. In this context the reference is often made to the Treaty of Good Neighbourly Friendship and Cooperation signed by Russia and China in 2001.

Cooperative agreements also vary in the level of peacetime investment and coordination they require. While some of them only require action in the event conflict emerges, others provide for the development of organisations and military integra¬tion during peacetime, for one state to place troops on the territory of an ally during peacetime, and/or for shared development of defense and foreign policy. In addition, such arrangements vary in size and length of term. It is also pointed out that some of them are bilateral agreements while others are large multilateral entities. Some are formed for temporary purposes whereas others are designed to last for long peri¬ods of time, for instance, 20 years, with provisions allowing for renewal.

Cooperation in international field is the need that is paid attention to by all states that arises from the fact that the international system is anar¬chic therefore all bargaining among states takes place in the shadow of the use of force. States that can muster more military force can retain their security and compel concessions from others. States maintain their security by deterring threats against them and successful deterrence requires convincing potential adversaries that pursuing gains at a state’s expense through the use of force would be unsuccessful or prohibitively costly due to the state’s ability to wage a successful war. Similarly, states can receive concessions from other states by convincing those states that resisting demands will be unsuccessful due to the superior military power of the challenging state or coalition. In the event that deterrence or com¬pellence fails and states find themselves at war, they are more likely to win the war with allied support than without.

Alternatively, states may use the cooperation practices to reduce their individual defence burdens. To the extent that economies of scale exist in the provision of defence, states might find it more efficient to com¬bine their defense preparations with other states rather than bear the full burden of defense provi¬sions on their own. Similarly, states may have dif¬ferent comparative advantages in defense such as land power vs. sea power and benefit from com¬bining their efforts. Interestingly, however, many cooperation agreements are formed between strong states and weaker states. Since weaker states usually cannot offer much increased military power to strong states with the exception of a few weak states that occupy strate¬gically important geographic locations, one might reasonably ask why strong states would see benefit in allying with weaker states. Two explanations have been pro¬posed and the first is that strong states have self-interest in the security of some weaker states due to factors such as valuable economic relationships or rival¬ries with other major powers and are willing to bear the costs of defending those states. The other factor is that weaker states are willing to offer stronger states other advantages such as foreign policy control, use of their territory and resources or compliance on particular issues of interest to stronger states in return for cooperation.

The practice of international cooperation in the field of defence suffers from uncertainty as there is no institution to provide external enforcement of contracts in the interna¬tional system, one might wonder why states believe that cooperation will be reliable. In fact, this is a sig¬nificant concern and almost assuredly prevents some potentially beneficial alliances from occur¬ring; states should be reluctant to depend too heav¬ily on other states to guarantee their security and when deciding to form alliances must consider the incentives that their allies will have for fulfilling their alliance commitments in the event of conflict. That being said, many allies do have incentive to work with their partners due to shared interests and the formalisation of cooperation in an alli¬ance treaty enhances the probability of future joint action. It must however be kept in view that forming and institutionalising mutual cooperation agreements are costly as not only do states have to negotiate the agreement, they then have to imple¬ment military coordination clauses and coordinate their foreign policies to make the alliance credible. In addition, violating a previous commitment can have negative repercussions for the international reputation of a state and the domestic reputation of its governing elements.

The strongest effects of cooperation pacts are on the probability that militarised disputes occur and the probability that wars expand as they affect the probability that states chal¬lenge the current status quo and make threats involving the use of military force. States with allies are less likely to find themselves challenged because potential adversaries understand that to compel compliance would involve facing a joint military effort involving the target and its allies. On the other hand, states that have allies commit¬ted to help them may be more willing to challenge the status quo and threaten the use of force in the expectation that their targets will concede their demands.

Yet, while defensive arrangements may deter the ini¬tiation of disputes, when deterrence fails, states with allies may be more willing to resist a chal¬lenger’s demands and take the dispute to war. If this happens, the war is unlikely to remain a bilat¬eral affair. Such agreements tend to diffuse wars beyond their initial participants and create larger, more severe conflicts. Because defensive arrangements both deter disputes and make it more likely that failures of deterrence result in particularly large and severe wars, it is not easily apparent whether such pacts have an overall dampening effect on international conflict. Pacts have spillover effects on other kinds of interna-tional cooperation as allies tend to trade more with one another, that allies are more likely to settle disputes among themselves peacefully and that institu¬tions initially formed to support cooperative arrangements become useful for a wide range of other cooperative activities as well. A large number of trea¬ties include specific provisions for nonmilitary cooperation in addition to military cooperation and so such pacts may have an indirect pacifying effect as well. TW


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