A three-degree horizon of peace in the military alliance network

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Science Advances  01 Mar 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 3, e1601895
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601895

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States form defensive military alliances to enhance their security in the face of potential or realized interstate conflict. The network of these international alliances is increasingly interconnected, now linking most of the states in a complex web of ties. These alliances can be used both as a tool for securing cooperation and to foster peace between direct partners. However, do indirect connections—such as the ally of an ally or even further out in the alliance network—result in lower probabilities of conflict? We investigate the extent to which military alliances produce peace between states that are not directly allied. We find that the peacemaking horizon of indirect alliances extends through the network up to three degrees of separation. Within this horizon of influence, a lack of decay in the effect of degrees of distance indicates that alliances do not diminish with respect to their ability to affect peace regardless of whether or not the states in question are directly allied. Beyond the three-degree horizon of influence, we observe a sharp decline in the effect of indirect alliances on bilateral peace. Further investigation reveals that the community structure of the alliance network plays a role in establishing this horizon, but the effects of indirect alliances are not spurious to the community structure.

  • networks
  • defensive military alliances
  • international conflict

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