A Prince is . . . esteemed who is a staunch friend and a thorough foe . . . who without reserve openly declares for one against another, this being always a more advantageous course than to stand neutral. . . . it will always be well for you to declare yourself, and join in frankly with one side or other.
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Machiavelli's counsel against equivocating and avoiding commitment when conflicts between others appear to force a choice invoked a lesson at least as old as Aesop. 1 Down the years, many serious political thinkers have endorsed it. Yet the annals of statecraft are filled with examples of powers that, possessing the leverage and flexibility of a central position, have tried to deter others from war without choosing sides. They have not always failed. I call this form of statecraft pivotal deterrence. In the last century and a half, some of the most praiseworthy diplomatic feats, and notorious foreign policy failures, involved pivotal deterrence. In the 1870s Bismarck famously deflected Russia and Austria-Hungary from coming to blows in the Balkans. Sir Edward Grey, Britain's foreign minister, tried to do the same with Germany and France before 1914, with catastrophic results. 2 Why did Bismarck's policy succeed and Grey's fail? In the 1960s the United States pursued similar policies toward the rivalries between India and Pakistan and Greece and Turkey. Its efforts were largely successful in the Greco- Turkish dispute, defusing near-war crises in 1964 and 1967. In South Asia, on the other hand, U.S. policy failed, culminating in the bloody 1965 Kashmir war. Why did U.S. policy work in one case and not the other?
This book posits a simple but powerful answer. Pivotal deterrence tends to work when the adversaries have bad alignment options, or none at all,