Trivial Tripwires?: Military Capabilities and Alliance Reassurance
34 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021 Last revised: 27 Sep 2021
Date Written: September 21, 2021
How can states most effectively reassure their allies? Existing studies assessing signals of commitment focus on the role of resolve in making assurances credible. This sidelines important questions about the role of capability. We argue that reassurance effectiveness is the product of both capability and resolve, and suggest that high resolve cannot offset low capability. We introduce a new typology of reassurance measures based on the interaction of military capability and resolve, and test which types of measures are most reassuring using an original survey fielded on European foreign policy experts and a case study of U.S. and NATO reassurance initiatives in the Baltics. We find that high-resolve but low-capability signals like tripwire forces in allied territory are not viewed as any more reassuring than high-capability but low-resolve signals like forces stationed offshore. Our study casts doubt on the reassurance value of tripwires and contributes to scholarship on interstate signaling.
Keywords: Reassurance, Alliances, Signaling, Capability
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