The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975

The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975

The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975

The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975


The Limits of Alignment is an engaging and accessible study that explores how small states and middle powers of Southeast Asia ensure their security in a world where they are overshadowed by greater powers. John D. Ciorciari challenges a central concept in international relations theory -- that states respond to insecurity by either balancing against their principal foes, "bandwagoning" with them, or declaring themselves neutral. Instead, he shows that developing countries prefer limited alignments that steer between strict neutrality and formal alliances to obtain the fruits of security cooperation without the perils of undue dependency.

Ciorciari also shows how structural and normative shifts following the end of the Cold War and the advent of U. S. primacy have increased the prevalence of limited alignments in the developing world and that these can often place constraints on U. S. foreign policy. Finally, he discusses how limited alignments in the developing world may affect the future course of international security as China and other rising powers gather influence on the world stage.


This book is about alignment politics in the Global South. By alignments, I refer specifically to agreements between two or more states to undertake defense-related security cooperation. In the pages that follow, I attempt to address a critical question for international relations theory and practice: how do the small states and middle powers of the Global South tend to align with the great powers in pursuit of their security interests?

The Global South—sometimes called the developing world or third world—is the home to most of the earth's population and many of the most pressing challenges to international security. As defined here, it includes the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and most of Asia and Oceania. Only Europe, North America, and the highly industrialized democracies of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand are excluded. Within the developing world, only China has the military, nuclear, and economic muscle to be considered a bona fide great power alongside the United States, Russia, and arguably France and the United Kingdom. The rest of the Global South is populated by small states and middle powers. These states—which I label developing countries (DCs) despite the imperfections of that term—generally lack formidable independent power capabilities. Unlike the great powers, they usually cannot affect the international security landscape dramatically on their own. However, many occupy strategic positions, and collectively their choices have enormous consequence.

The alignment preferences and policies of developing countries are important for a number of reasons. They affect the overall global distribution of power by adding to the resources of some great powers and constraining others. They also shape the strategic character of particular regional environments. Sometimes DCs align in a manner that fosters peace and stability in their environs. At other times they align, either intentionally or accidentally, in a way that contributes to instability and conflict. That they do is important, because interstate conflict since 1945 has usually occurred in various parts of the developing world, not on the home turf of the great powers. Finally, in an era of globalization and asymmetrical conflict, the most dangerous exporters of insecurity are not necessarily the mightiest of nations. Cooperation from DCs can be the key to great-power efforts to meet the menaces of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and other nontraditional security threats.

With so much at stake, international relations theory needs to address the alignment behavior of states in the Global South. To date when theorists have addressed this topic, they have focused primarily on explaining how states choose sides amid . . .

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