Bandwagoning in international relations occurs when a state aligns with a stronger, adversarial power and concedes that the stronger adversary-turned-partner disproportionately gains in the spoils they conquer together. Bandwagoning, therefore, is a strategy employed by weak states. The logic stipulates that an outgunned, weaker state should align itself with a stronger adversary because the latter can take what it wants by force anyway. Thucydides' famous dictum that "the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must" captures the essence of bandwagoning.
Bandwagoning was coined by Quincy Wright in A Study of War (1942: 136) and popularized by Kenneth Waltz in Theory of International Politics (1979: 126) (in his work, Waltz incorrectly attributes Stephen Van Evera with coining the term). Both Wright and Waltz employ the concept to serve as the opposite of balancing behavior. Bandwagoning occurs when weaker states decide that the cost of opposing a stronger power exceeds the benefits. The stronger power may offer incentives, such as the possibility of territorial gain, trade agreements, or protection, to induce weaker states to join with it.
Realism predicts that states will bandwagon only when there is no possibility of building a balancing coalition or their geography makes balancing difficult (i.e. surrounded by enemies). Bandwagoning is considered to be dangerous because it allows a rival state to gain power.
Foreign policy commitments
The belief that states will ally with a dominant power, as opposed to balance against it, has been a common feature among foreign policy practitioners. German Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz's "risk theory", for example, posited that if Germany built a formidable naval fleet, it could force the United Kingdom into neutrality or alliance with it by threatening to the latter's maritime supremacy.
According to Stephen Walt, "American officials have repeatedly embraced the bandwagoning hypothesis in justifying American foreign policy commitments." John F. Kennedy, for example, stated that "if the United States were to falter, the whole world... would inevitably begin to move toward the Communist bloc". Henry Kissinger suggested that states tend to bandwagon "if leaders around the world... assume that the U.S. lacked either the forces or the will... they will accommodate themselves to the dominant trend."
Ronald Reagan endorsed the same sentiment when he said, "if we cannot defend ourselves [in Central America]...then we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere... our credibility will collapse and our alliances will crumble."
- Bandwagon (disambiguation)
- Bandwagon effect (also describes the origin of the phrase)
- Mearsheimer, John (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 162–163. ISBN 9780393076240.
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- Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives, 97th Congress, 1st session (1977). The Soviet Union and the Third World: Watershed in Great Power Policy. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 157–158.
- Reagan, Ronald (28 April 1983). "President Reagan's Address to a Joint Session of Congress on Central America". New York Times. Retrieved 8 May 2013.
- Waltz, Kenneth (2010). Theory of International Politics. McGraw-Hill. p. 126. ISBN 1577666704.
- Walt, Stephen M. (1987). The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2054-7.