Alliance or strategic partnership?

Hadiqa Mir

Pakistan in the contemporary era is facing the multifaceted challenges, to mitigate these challenges Pakistan’s threat perception has evolved significantly which has paved the way for the strategy that takes care of not only internal challenges but also threat posed on the external front. The dynamics of internal and external challenges converge somewhere on the spectrum of international engagement. Keeping in view the “Theory of Alliance Formation” and incipient concept of strategic partnership, Pakistan may facilitate its image in the international arena by yielding strategic partnership and not alliance.
The dynamics of international politics and international relations of the contemporary world are in flux and need to be refined in accordance with the prevailing milieu and so are the terminologies used to define those dynamics. In this era of globalization, the conflicts or problems are not restricted to particular state hence, the states collaborate with each other to safeguard their interests. The cooperation between states may have different forms, it may be alliance, partnership, alignment, coalitions, entente or bandwagoning. The nature of the cooperation however, depends on the interests of the state and the prevailing domestic, regional and ultimately the global environment.
Arnold Wolfer defines an alliance as “a promise of mutual military assistance between two or more sovereign states” that are usually formed against the common threat or adversary. In many other cases it may be a formal agreement between two or more states for mutual support in case of war. Contemporary alliances provide for combined action on the part of two or more independent states if anyone of the alliance is attacked by another state or coalition.
Whereas strategic partnership is defined by Lucyna Czechowska in “The concept of strategic partnership as an input in the modern alliance theory”. This definition implies that the strategic partnership, despite its popularity in the practice of modern diplomacy has not yet been taken through a reliable theoretical analysis and is often confused with the concept of alliance. Strategic partnership is “a bilateral relation, characterized by the institutional flexibility, exceptional closeness and intensiveness of relations between states while preserving the legal sovereignty. The parties are however convinced about the integrity of their strategic goals, and therefore decide to cooperate on the long-term basis to implement them”. In simple words strategic partnership is a long-term cooperation between states or state and supranational entity based on political, economic, social and historical factors.
The Strategic partnership is not meant to be formed against particular state rather it is a win- win situation for the partners, where they get benefited from the expertise of each other. Some social scientists highlight the character of bilateral voluntary in this relationship, whereas others propagates the character of the mutual dependency, in which each of the subject has an advantage over the other in some fields of cooperation but the differences between the potentials do not surpass the level that could inevitably lead to the unilateral supremacy. The Strategic Partnership has three main conditions to fulfill; firstly, the partners’ relations should validate enclosed relations through frequent high level meeting, economic relations, high trade, and significant investment. Secondly, there should an advanced institutionalization of mutual relations between partners, both on interstate and inter-human level. Thirdly, is the nationwide sympathies that lead to the creation of relations similar to human friendship, based on trust and loyalty.
Taking help from the above mentioned theoretical background it can be infer out that alliance are always formed between the states either against the prevailing or perceived threat and is quite static in nature. Whereas strategic partnership can be formed between the states or with the supranational organizations for the mutual good and is not targeted against any party.
Alliance is usually state centric having realpolitik objectives based on the realistic approach and ignores the modern notion of security that is “human security”. However, the strategic partnership encompasses the realistic elements as well as liberalistic impressions hence provide the border spectrum of the security, including the human security dimension in the equation. Strategic Partnership keeps the options of cooperation open for the partners whereas alliance narrow downs the options as the enemy of the ally is your enemy. The nature of the alliance is ad hoc as it either vanishes or becomes irrelevant with changing dynamics of threats. In case of Soviet-Afghan war Pakistan was an ally of the US but after the disintegration of Soviet Union the alliance disappeared leaving Pakistan in uncertain situation. Now, in war against terrorism, same thing is happening again due to the shallowness of the relations in form of alliance. If there would have been a partnership between the US and Pakistan the “complex interdependence” might have made the situation better for Pakistan.
Strategic partnership is a better policy option for Pakistan in my opinion. In the prevailing circumstances Pakistan is at the crossroad therefore it needs to harvest strategic partnerships rather than alliance for sustainable future. In historical point of view Pakistan has always been a part of various alliances that are proved counterproductive. The worst illustration of this act is indulgence of Pakistan in Afghanistan as the US ally that took it to the point where it again had to choose the US as it ally in post 9/11 situation. This took Pakistan to a point where the internal and external security of Pakistan was highly effected and it paid heavy price of “fighting an ill-judged war of the friend’s choice”. By repeating the same mistake and expecting different results in current situation will not be a wise option for Pakistan due to many reasons. Firstly, declaring itself an ally of specific state or group of states will add Pakistan into the threat matrix of many countries which may increase the cost of cooperation. There are two levels of choices in this regard, choice at global level and choice at regional level. On global level declaring itself an ally of China would make Pakistan a direct component of the US calculations for containment of China and regional rebalancing. Moreover, in context of the US presence in Afghanistan and Trump’s new South Asian policy the situation will be further aggravated for Pakistan. On the regional level allying one Saudi Arabia against Iran or vice versa with open new challenges on internal and external front. Secondly, if Pakistan go for alliance formation it will have to leave the certain options and that may leave the “diplomatic vacuum” for hostile states. Thirdly, Pakistan is already fighting on internal front against terrorism and forging alliance will make it obligatory to respond against any threat to the ally that could cause the “military overstretching”. Finally, it may make its own faultline more vulnerable to the international issues and players.
Nevertheless, keeping in view our domestic realities, regional challenges and global transitions the better option for Pakistan is to form strategic partnerships. The best strategy for Pakistan is to get benefits of the opportunities available and to get itself out of the vicious circle of the military coalitions.

The writer is student of M.Phil in Department of Peace and Conflict Studies of National Defence University, Islamabad.

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