Response from the Author

I thank Marina Henke and Daniel Morey for their thoughtful comments on my article.  Both scholars raised a number of important points about key concepts and about where subsequent work on this topic might go.  In general, I agree with their comments, though (I suspect unsurprisingly) I am inclined to see many of their points already reflected in my article.

I argue that decisions about whether to abandon coalition partners are driven by battlefield circumstances, an important factor neglected by existing work that almost exclusively examines domestic politics.  In particular, I argue that abandonment is more likely when countries are fighting independently and when battlefield results have trended downhill recently.  Both Henke and Morey raise questions about the concept of abandonment and point to the potential for a closer examination of political agreements among coalition members; I thus focus on these concerns in my response.

The concept of abandonment is obviously crucial for any study of when countries abandon coalition partners.  My definition focuses on the complete withdrawal of forces at a time when partners would prefer that the country continue to fight.  This definition permits relatively unambiguous coding of cases for statistical analysis, but it loses a lot of the nuance of coalition politics – a qualitative study of the sort that Henke advocates would for example be able to examine partial abandonment, in which a country pulls back from its wartime commitments without withdrawing altogether.  

Morey identifies two scenarios in which my stated coding rules might result in a misleading coding of abandonment.  The first is coalition entrapment, in which a country pulls back while objecting to its partners’ increasing war aims.  This concern is legitimate, but in practice I can think of only one case that potentially fits this description, the French decision to withdraw from the Crimean War at a time when the British wanted to forge ahead after victory at Sevastopol (which I already revisit in robustness checks).  Second, Morey raises the possibility that a state might join a coalition with limited aims and then leave when its agreed-upon responsibilities have been achieved.  I agree that this sort of case should not be coded as abandonment (pg. 754), and for that reason do not consider the two relevant cases (Ethiopia and the Soviet Union in World War II) as abandoning their partners.

Henke by contrast objects to coding the members of the Vietnam War coalition as abandoning South Vietnam when, following the lead of the United States, they negotiated a withdrawal in January 1973.  I agree that this case is unusual, especially in that it is the one case in which an entire coalition abandoned a single remaining partner, but I coded it as abandonment in part because doing so biased against my findings. The five countries that withdraw constitute over 2/3 of all cases of abandonment when fighting on a common front.  Rerunning the analysis with those cases coded as non-abandonment thus unsurprisingly strengthens results for the common front variable, while leaving the other key findings basically unchanged.

On the theoretical side, Henke focuses on the role of intra-coalition bargaining, citing cases in which coalition members convinced the United States to make side payments or to limit its political demands to keep them in the coalition.  Morey similarly advocates a closer examination of the specific agreements among coalition partners.  I fully agree that I could have addressed intra-coalition bargaining in greater detail, and I am pleased to see that Henke’s research examines these negotiations.  I would argue, however, that my findings have important implications for the feasibility of intra-coalition bargains.  

As I argue in the article, countries that do not fight on a common front tend to have different interests from those of their coalition partners, making them logical targets for wedge strategies by opponents.  As Henke observes, in the face of such wedge strategies a country’s coalition partners could promise additional concessions to keep the country on board.  Doing so becomes more difficult, however, when the target of the wedge strategy has particularistic interests that are not under the control of its coalition partners.  There was little that Egypt could offer its allies in October 1948, for example, to induce them to continue the war effort against Israel.  Similarly, as battlefield results worsen, coalition members must expect that the pie available to divide at the end of the war will be smaller than they previously expected, and hence that there will be greater contestation over how to allocate benefits among coalition members.  In this context, the enemy will be better able to outbid a wedge target’s current coalition partners.

Finally, Henke expresses disappointment about my failure to include the Iraq and Afghanistan occupying coalitions, from which a number of countries withdrew forces over time.  While I agree that increasing the number of observations in statistical analyses is certainly desirable, I elected not to include these cases because they differ in important respects from other coalition efforts I examine.  In both cases, the coalition was engaged in counterinsurgency without a government opponent, while most countries contributed relatively small forces that in some cases did not engage in fighting (as with Norway’s insistence that its forces were involved in a humanitarian mission unconnected to the war effort).  That said, the accelerating number of countries withdrawing forces as conditions worsened was clearly consistent with the argument that worsening battlefield conditions induce abandonment.

Ultimately, of course, battlefield conditions are only one of the many determinants (if an important one) of coalition abandonment, and abandonment is only aspect of coalition politics.  Studies in the past few years, by Henke and Morey as well as by scholars such as Sarah Kreps, Scott Wolford, and Patricia Weitsman, among others, have significantly advanced our understanding of military coalitions.   I thank Henke and Morey for pointing to useful directions for continuing this research program, and look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.

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