Throughout human history, the world has witnessed numerous conflicts, ranging from early humans fighting for survival to contemporary conflicts driven by ideologies and geopolitics. Humans are inherently social beings who naturally form groups. This is because humans have a strong desire to belong and stand out from others (Brewer, 2007). The shared objectives of individuals are subsequently translated into a collective with a unified goal, encompassing various aspects such as social, economic, and security concerns. States, as a conglomeration of individuals, possess their own distinct objectives that typically revolve around national interests, spanning domains such as economics, culture, social affairs, and security. States commonly collaborate to achieve their objectives, whether through bilateral or multilateral cooperation, such as through international organizations, coalitions, or alliances.
The current escalation of conflicts worldwide has elevated security to a paramount concern. However, significant conflicts have been documented long before the establishment of the international system based on the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. One notable example is the Thirty Years War, which occurred between two prominent Christian factions. It involved an alliance between Catholic countries and the Protestant side, with major European powers such as England, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands supporting the Protestants, while Austria, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire represented the Catholics (Mark, 2022). While the alliance formed during the thirty-year wars did not produce a clear victor, it did result in one side gaining significantly more influence than the other. Notable instances of alliances were established between World War I and World War II, where major powers engaged in conflicts with each other. The victorious nations gained substantial global influence, which continues to have an impact in the present day.
The intensification of global conflict, particularly in Europe, has underscored the significance of alliances. The aggressive actions of Russia towards Ukraine have caused European nations to feel apprehensive. As a consequence of this event, Sweden and Finland, countries renowned for their policy of neutrality, made the decision to align themselves with NATO (Chatterjee, 2022). NATO has a treaty provision called Article 5, which states that if any member country in Europe or North America is attacked, it will be considered an attack on all member countries. In response, each member country has the right to use armed force, individually or collectively, to defend the attacked country and restore security in the North Atlantic area. This provision is based on the right to self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This implies that individuals belonging to the Alliance are furnished with a guarantee of security measures to protect them from potential security threats (NATO, 2023).
Employing military force within an alliance may be perceived as a means of discouraging potential adversaries. Deterrence in security studies can be defined as a strategy aimed at intimidating or dissuading an aggressor from initiating an attack (van der Putten et al., 2015). In light of the increasing demand for protection against threats, the significance of forming alliances has escalated significantly. Such alliances are crucial not only for safeguarding a nation’s well-being but also for projecting their strength and influence on other nations. This paper aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the significance of alliances in the contemporary era, particularly in relation to European security. It will specifically examine the potential implications of Sweden and Finland’s potential shift from neutrality to joining NATO.
Alliance: Achieving National Interest Through External Support
As stated before in the introduction, an alliance is a form of group with the same interest, and in this case, the same interest is security. Alliances have happened throughout the history of mankind. It has been recorded from ancient times that the renown city-states of ancient Greece formed alliances to fight war with each other. There have been several famous alliances in ancient times, like the League of Delos, which was led by Athens City-State; the Peloponesian League, formed between Sparta and other city-states; the famous Quadruple Alliance, consisting of the United Kingdom, Prusia, Austria, and Russia, fighting the Napoleonic wars; and, of course, the famous world war alliance between the Entente alliance and the Central Powers in the first world war; and the Axis powers against the renown Allied Forces.
There are many alliances in the modern world, and Bruce M. Russet, in his journal titled “An Empirical Typology of International Military Alliances’ ‘, has laid out lots of variables in an alliance, but overall, he divided alliances into four kinds of alliances:
- Defense Pact: This kind of alliance provides member states with mutual defense against external threats. NATO is the most prominent example of a defensive pact, and Article 5 is the prime example of mutual defense.
- Non-Aggression Pact: An alliance that was formed to prevent conflict within member states from attacking one another. The famous non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union can be attributed to the Second World War, with the USSR agreeing to not interfere in the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939.
- Entente: This is a form of alliance that consists of two countries or more that are less formal than the Defense Pact and the Non-Aggression Pact. This alliance is commonly referred to as a mutual and friendly agreement, but it is not binding. The famous Entente that happened was the Triple Entente, involving Britain, France, and Russia, in response to the German military buildup that led to the First World War.
- Integrated Defense Alliance: These alliances are distinguished by the attributes linked to integrated defense, or “common defense.” The alliance members collaborate to formulate and execute a shared defense strategy. An example of this kind of alliance is a joint task force.
What do those alliances have in common? They tend to be formed in response to a threat (Walt, 1985). States have tendencies to maintain their existence from any foreign threats; this, in terms, makes states have two polarizing behaviors in an alliance. The state can choose to: A.) balance or B.) bandwagon. Walt (1985) defines balancing as a means to counter a threat by ally in opposition to the principal source of danger and bandwagon by ally with the state that poses the major threat.
Balancing behavior stems from the realist perspective, which derives from the traditional balance of power theory, that states join alliances to protect themselves from states or coalitions whose superior resources could pose a threat (Gulick, 1960). There are two main reasons for a state to choose to engage in balancing behavior. First, states put their own survival at risk by failing to avert the rise of a potential hegemon before it achieves an excessive level of power. A strategic alliance with the hegemonic power entails relying on its ongoing goodwill. For the purpose of avoiding being dominated by those who are able to do so, the safer strategy is to make alliances with those who are unable to easily dominate their allies. NATO is a prime example of states forming alliances with balancing behavior to counter the growing threat of the USSR in 1949. The second reason that states choose balancing behavior is that they tend to seek it. Second, joining the more vulnerable side strengthens the more powerful state in terms of influence since other vulnerable states will require more assistance; therefore, this option is preferable to counter hegemony power.
Bandwagoning behavior is when states tend to side with great power instead of challenging it, like in balancing behavior. There are several reasons why states choose to bandwagon with great power. First, it is seen as a means of appeasement, and state bandwagoning with great power could provide reassurance of not getting attacked by the great power. The other reason is that states tend to bandwagon with great power in order to reap some benefits from it. This case is best exemplified by Mussolini’s decision to side with the Axis Power, which at the start of World War II was the dominant power. His decision is based on the idea that if the Axis Power won the war, Italy could be benefited by the victory.
Alliances can take various forms, arising from two opposing motivations that states take into account when deciding to join. One significant advantage is increased security, as potential attackers are deterred from targeting a state supported by a formidable alliance. Essentially, alliances serve as a deterrent against aggression, a principle referred to as deterrence in the field of security studies. Which will be discussed in the next section.
A Way to Hold Enemies at Bay: Deterrence
“Si vis pacem, para bellum” is a renowned quote from the realist school of thought, which translates to “if you desire peace, prepare yourself for war.” Realists argue that peace is merely a temporary period that separates one war from the next. Meanwhile, states would seek to strengthen their capabilities in preparation for the next major conflict. The realists assert that the international system operates as an anarchic structure, where states must rely on their own capabilities to ensure their survival. In this context, how do states protect and provide for their own interests? The optimal solution is to establish a strategic alliance, as being a member of such an alliance would effectively deter potential external aggressors from initiating an assault. The term used in security studies to describe this concept is deterrence.
Deterrence is a strategic approach used in international relations to dissuade or prevent states from engaging in undesirable actions, typically involving armed aggression. Deterrence refers to the deliberate and strategic measures taken to discourage or prevent a particular action from occurring (Mazarr, 2018). In his journal article titled “Understanding Deterrence,” Mazarr (2018). categorized this concept into various approaches, which include:
Deterrence by denial
This form of deterrence seeks to instill in the aggressor the belief that their actions will not yield success. It typically entails showcasing military capabilities and expressing the intention to employ them in the event of an attack.
This form of deterrence is implemented to halt an ongoing attack and aims to prevent its recurrence. The aggressor is typically subjected to punitive measures, such as sanctions or penalties. The main goal of deterrence through punishment is not to directly protect the disputed commitment but rather to utilize threats of more extensive punishment that would raise the cost of an attack.
Deterrence can be employed in two separate circumstances. Immediate and prolonged. Direct deterrence pertains to the measures implemented by a nation to forestall any assaults on its own land, specifically within its geographical confines. Extended deterrence pertains to the action of deterring or discouraging potential assaults on third parties, specifically by leveraging allies and partners (Mazarr, 2018). In recent times, the practice of extended deterrence has become increasingly common, with states seeking to secure their security by exerting influence over other states through international institutions and alliances.
Deterrence can also be differentiated based on its duration, which is determined by observing its impact and length. This encompasses both general deterrence and immediate deterrence. General deterrence is the ongoing and persistent effort to prevent undesirable actions in the long term and in non-emergency situations. Immediate deterrence involves promptly implementing urgent measures to avert a particular and imminent assault, typically during periods of turmoil.
The importance of alliances in the past, now, and future
Alliances, complex and interconnected, have shaped international relations throughout history. They have shaped empires, wars, and peacetime stability. We must recognize the importance of alliances in the 21st century as we face uncertainty. This requires careful consideration of their historical context and future role in ensuring global security and prosperity.
Survival instincts led to alliances in early human history. In response to the Persian threat, the vulnerable city-states of Athens and Sparta formed the Delian League, demonstrating the power of collective might. The Han Dynasty in China formed strategic alliances with nomadic tribes to maintain regional stability by using their knowledge of nomadic lifestyles. These initial agreements, formed through conflict and cooperation, laid the groundwork for larger empires and centuries of complex international diplomacy.
Alliances often promote cultural exchange and economic growth while preventing aggression. The Byzantine Empire’s alliances with nomadic tribes like the Avars strengthened its defenses, opened new trade routes, and promoted cultural exchange. The Han Dynasty’s collaboration with Mongol factions created the Silk Road, a bustling trade route between continents. These historical examples demonstrate that alliances encompass shared interests, cultural exchange, and economic success beyond military agreements.
Alliances are crucial to the outcome of major global conflicts today. World War II’s heterogeneous Allied Powers showed the power of nations working together to defeat fascist aggression. However, the Axis powers, driven by territorial expansion and shared ideologies, demonstrate the dangers of bad alliances. These historical events demonstrate alliances’ power to maintain peace and stability while highlighting the risks of ideological involvement.
Alliances, along with war, underpin global cooperation and stability. For decades, NATO has protected Europe from aggression and promoted cooperation on collective security issues. Likewise, the African Union represents regional cohesion and advancement, addressing economic issues and transnational threats like terrorism and piracy. These examples show how modern alliances cross borders to solve complex problems, making the world more interconnected and secure.
Sweden and Finland joining NATO show the power of alliances in uncertain times. Due to Europe’s changing security situation and Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine, these historically neutral countries sought the alliance’s assurance and military defense. This significant ruling shows how alliances change, adapt to new threats, and remain attractive as a way to protect national interests in an unpredictable world. The decision seems to be primarily driven by the need to counterbalance Russia’s increasing power, although there are also elements of bandwagoning present. Their extensive history of maintaining neutrality, heightened awareness of the perceived threat posed by Russia, and the security assurances provided by NATO all indicate a deliberate strategy to protect their national interests by establishing a balance of power. They are not merely aligning with the dominant power for opportunistic benefits but actively striving to counter a particular threat to their security and sovereignty.
Alliances are important beyond military partnerships in the future. Climate change, pandemics, and cyber threats make international collaboration crucial. Tackling these complex issues requires creative solutions, a willingness to share resources and knowledge in alliances based on shared values, and a commitment to working with multiple nations. Imagine a tapestry of military power, environmental sustainability, cyber security, and humanitarian aid.
In conclusion Alliances are important beyond time and context. From ancient battlefields to tomorrow’s digital pathways, they have protected, collaborated, and established global governance. In the 21st century, alliances are essential to overcoming uncertain challenges. Nations’ complex alliances are our best hope for security and prosperity, whether by discouraging aggression, encouraging collaboration, or addressing global issues. Sweden and Finland joining NATO change geopolitics. It also reinforces the importance of collective security in a world where cooperation is our only defense against global uncertainty.