The art of uncommitment : the costs of peacetime withdrawals from alliance commitments

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-615
Journal / PublicationEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number3
Online published7 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


Are there significant domestic political costs for leaders who disengage from long-standing alliances, costs that discourage such disengagement? Leaders of major powers occasionally look for ways to disengage in non-crisis situations from some long-term commitments to other countries following the legal procedures laid out in the alliance treaty or commitment. However, leaders interested in disengagement from alliances sometimes fear that they will pay domestic disengagement costs, for example, a decline in domestic public support, if they try to withdraw from alliances in that manner in practice. To examine if such fears are justified, we conducted two survey experiments among representative samples of the US public investigating the effects of a presidential decision to end an alliance commitment through the legally prescribed means. We find that disengagement costs exist in general and that some characteristics of the country in question can increase their size and make them more long-lasting. For example, withdrawal from alliances with countries perceived as similar on some key criteria to the United States and as loyal allies, or widespread opposition by experts to this withdrawal, will all increase the size of the disengagement costs and make them more long-lasting. Leaving an existing alliance in peacetime will frequently be a politically losing proposition for American leaders in many plausible situations—one possible reason for the endurance of some US alliances.

Research Area(s)

  • alliance disengagement, Alliances, domestic politics, experiments, foreign policy, intervention, public diplomacy

Bibliographic Note

Full text of this publication does not contain sufficient affiliation information. With consent from the author(s) concerned, the Research Unit(s) information for this record is based on the existing academic department affiliation of the author(s).