This study examines the determinants of intra-alliance cooperation by focusing on a single case study: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) attempts to deal with Persian Gulf security since 1979. It chronicles the evolution of NATO policy towards Southwest Asia, identifying examples of cooperative and noncooperative behavior. The essay then develops four hypotheses about intra-alliance behavior and uses them to examine the case study. The External Threat hypothesis suggests that alliance cohesion rises and falls with external threats to collective security. The Alliance Security Dilemma hypothesis proposes that cohesion is a function of the coercive potential of the alliance leader and its ability to exact cooperative behavior from its weaker partners. The Collective Action hypothesis suggests that alliance behavior is fundamentally a public goods problem. The Domestic Politics hypothesis asserts that alliance behavior is determined primarily by political and economic factors at the domestic level.
The essay points to the overriding importance of American coercion in producing political cooperation within NATO on the out-of-area problem. It shows, however, that the economic components of alliance behavior are relatively insensitive to bargaining pressure and threat perceptions, and that European defense expenditures are determined largely by domestic factors. The article therefore illuminates the need to distinguish carefully between the political and economic components of alliance management. It suggests, however, that the different dynamics driving cooperation and discord are not a function of the issue-area per se, but of the scope and locus of its decision-making arena. While some issue-areas are largely the domain of foreign policy elites and lend themselves to oligarchic forms of decision making, others have a far more immediate impact on domestic politics and are therefore more influenced by pluralist factors.