How can alliance politics and states’ involvement in international organizations provide insight into international security? Studying alliance politics is an excellent window through which to explore broader issues in international politics including the creation of treaties, the role of international organizations in international politics, and how states achieve cooperation under anarchy. In order to gain a better understanding of these topics, Dr. Paul Poast’s work looks to the most prominent alliance formed since 1945: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is indeed the perfect case through which to explore concepts applicable to international organizations in general. (Olson and Zeckhauser 1966, 266)

In two books, Dr. Poast makes a number of conceptual, theoretical, and empirical contributions to our understanding of alliances and international institutions. He aims to explore several key questions:

Organizing Democracy

Organizing Democracy explores the well established relationship between fledgling democracies and international organizations. Using the Baltic states' accession to NATO as a motivating example (and as a core case), Paul Poast and Johannes Urpelainen  unpack the mechanisms that explain why states experiencing democratic transition also appear to seek international organization (IO) membership. Exploring this issue through the lens of NATO's post-Cold War expansion is especially salient since some scholars questioned the ability of NATO to adequately support new democracies or even the continued existence and utility of NATO following the Cold War.

Overall, Organizing Democracy renews interest in the efficiency gains argument for IO creation. Rather than exploring whether IOs "tie hands" of leaders to reforms, IOs are simply reflections of the balance of power, or are a glue for affecting peaceful relations among states, this book attempts to change the conversation by focusing on the (sometimes mundane) benefits leaders actually hope to acquire from IOs.

Arguing About Alliances

Arguing About Alliances explores the negotiation of military alliance treaties. While scholars often think of successfully negotiated alliance treaties (such as the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949), history is replete with instances of alliance treaty negotiations ending without an agreement (such as the 1901 Anglo-German negotiations or the 1939 British-French-Soviet negotiations). What conditions explain when states will end these negotiations with a signed treaty or instead walk away empty handed?

Dr. Paul Poast argues that understanding why alliance treaty negotiations end in agreement or nonagreement requires conceptualizing alliance treaty negotiations as discussions over joint war plans. While the plans may not appear in the treaty text, they are a core point of discussion during the negotiations. States are more likely to reach agreement when they enter alliance treaty negotiations with “highly compatible” ideal war plans. This means the states have similar (if not identical) views regarding two “high-level” components of a war plan: (1) the target of the alliance, and (2) the general approach (offensive or defensive) to applying force against the target.

This argument bridges research on alliance formation and intra-alliance relations by showing how states must address ally management issues prior to signing an alliance treaty. Just as Organizing Democracy encourages scholars to think anew about the efficiency arguments for IO creation, Arguing About Alliances renews interest in alliances as instruments of war planning that enhance the interoperability of coalitional forces. Also, by having the failure of negotiations as a central component of the book, this research highlights the insights scholars can gain by exploring the "dogs that didn't bark", meaning looking at cases where an outcome was attempted but failed to materialize.

New Projects

The Approach of Danger

A new book project, tentatively titled The Approach of Danger: The International Origins of the American Civil War, seeks to understand how the global cotton trade influenced the onset of the American Civil War. This project contends that Southern secession and the Northern response to secession are largely explained by a belief, held by key decision makers on both sides, that European dependence on Southern cotton would lead to European recognition of the Southern Confederacy (and potentially an alliance between the Confederacy and the recognizing power).

Learn more here.

Forged By War

A new book project titled Forged by War: From Great War to Global Economy  and co-authored with Rosella Capella Zielinski is inspired by work on historical institutionalism and seeks to unpack the legacy of allied economic cooperation during World War I. Drs. Poast and Zielinski contend that core features of prominent institutions that operate in the modern global economy––the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and even the World Trade Organization––were first devised during World War I. The strain of war compelled the major allied powers to experiment with various forms of institutionalized economic cooperation, including the creation of international organizations possessing supranational authority. These wartime institutions then explicitly served as the blueprints for designing the international institutions that shaped the global economy after 1945.

Learn more here.