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Bound to last: Power, interest, and identity in the U.S.-Korea alliance

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  • Political Science
  • General|Political Science
  • International Law And Relations


In my dissertation, I develop an institutionalist theory of military alliance that explains alliance persistence. I move beyond existing studies on alliance origins, effects and reliability to analyze the degree to which an alliance transforms the allied states and societies. I posit that alliance practices, being more than a mere tool of power/threat balancing, create a set of asset specificities and vested interests within the state and society while at the same time continually producing representations that enframe state identities. And I postulate that the phenomenon of alliance persistence can be explained in terms of the transformation that alliance operations bring about in the ways the corporal and social identities of states are constituted. I test my theory against the U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance, and demonstrate that it successfully explains the alliance's persistence in the 1990s. First, I show that the U.S.-ROK military alliance was persisting in the 1990s: it was outliving its original purpose of counterbalancing North Korea's power. Second, I demonstrate that the past 40 years of alliance operation have brought about changes in the two states on the level of material identity and the level of social identity. And finally, I make a sociological institutionalist, second-image explanation of the alliance persistence: the changes in identity constitution have become divorced from power distribution and have caused the alliance to persist. ^

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