Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War

Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War

Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War

Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War


Why does the United States sometimes seek multilateral support for its military interventions? When does it instead sidestep international institutions and intervene unilaterally? In Coalitions of Convenience, a comprehensive study of US military interventions in the post-Cold War era, Sarah Kreps shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, even superpowers have strong incentives to intervene multilaterally: coalitions confer legitimacy and provide ways to share the costly burdens of war. Despite these advantages, multilateralism comes with costs: multilateral responses are often diplomatic battles of attrition in which reluctant allies hold out for side payments in exchange for their consent. A powerful state's willingness to work multilaterally, then, depends on its time horizons--how it values the future versus the present. States with long-term--those that do not face immediate threats--see multilateralism as a power-conserving strategy over time. States with shorter-term horizons will find the expediency of unilateralism more attractive. A systematic account of how multilateral coalitions function, Coalitions of Convenience also considers the broader effects of power on international institutions and what the rise of China may mean for international cooperation and conflict.


In 2002, the perennial pessimist of American power, Paul Kennedy, made a remarkable reversal. He boldly declared that “in global military terms only one player on the field now counts—the US.” Having been stunned by the 9/11 attacks, he wrote, the United States went on to wreak “appropriate oblivion” on the foes in Afghanistan. More impressive yet is that the United States intervened with allied contributions described as “mere tokenism.”

The lesson was instructive: American military power was unrivaled by friend and foe alike. Unilateralism appeared to be a logical by-product of unipolarity, a world in which all power indicators favored the United States. In this world, allies would be less meaningful than they were in shifting the balance of power during the great wars of the previous century. Moreover, relying on multilateral institutions, their most strident critics had pointed out, was tantamount to “reacting to events or passing the buck to multilingual committees with fancy acronyms.” Even defenders of multilateral institutions had to admit that multilateralism in a unipolar world meant less autonomous decision making, leading them to wonder “why multilateralism might ever be preferred to an architecture where the hegemon could more directly exercise dominance?” Put another way, why would the most powerful states need help from their friends?

Despite its power advantages, the United States has generally sought allies and international organization authorization for its military interventions. In eight of the ten interventions in the post-Cold War period, the United States used force multilaterally even though the outcomes did not appear to be in doubt. For example, in 1994, the United States intervened multilaterally against a Haitian army derided because it did not “have the skill and dedication to fight its way out of a retirement home.” Why did the United States seek allies to intervene in a situation with such sharp power disparities?

This book asks why powerful states such as the United States intervene multilaterally more often than not. When does the United States instead . . .

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