Trivial Tripwires?: Military Capabilities and Alliance Reassurance

34 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021 Last revised: 27 Sep 2021

See all articles by Brian Blankenship

Brian Blankenship

University of Miami

Erik Lin-Greenberg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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

Suggested Citation

Blankenship, Brian and Lin-Greenberg, Erik, Trivial Tripwires?: Military Capabilities and Alliance Reassurance (September 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Brian Blankenship

University of Miami ( email )

Coral Gables, FL 33124
United States

Erik Lin-Greenberg (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Building E40, 4th Floor
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States


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