Alliance has remained one of the central topics in International Relations students for years. Existing theoretical discussions tend to focus on alliance formation and the relationship between alliance and war, and much less attention has been paid to alliance maintenance. This article seeks to reveal the central mechanism of alliance. We argue that mutual binding (or constraining) is the central mechanism of alliance maintenance. And power balance and the match of intentions among allies within an alliance determine the mutual constraint of the alliance, and thereby the alliance maintenance. By the two variables, we can divide alliances into different types, basically defensive vs. offensive alliance and symmetric vs. asymmetric alliance. And each type of alliance has its own interactive dynamics. In conclusion, in a symmetric alliance, if allies have similar intentions, mutual binding is unproblematic and alliance maintenance is relatively easy; otherwise, it is hard to sustain. In contrast, in an asymmetric alliance, most type of alliances are high likely to be maintained, except the asymmetric alliance type B (stronger state=defensive realist state; weaker state=offensive realist state). We test our theory with the cases of Franco-Russian alliance, Sino-Soviet alliance and US-Japan alliance.
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