You are here

Renu Gaur asked: IR theorists differentiate between 'alliance' and 'strategic partnership'. What is the difference and which one characterises the QUAD?

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Rajeesh Kumar replies: 'Alliance' and 'strategic partnership' are two frequently used phrases in International Relations (IR). An alliance is an arrangement between two or more states to work together on mutual security issues. It can be formal or informal. Nonetheless, in an alliance, states usually are treaty-bound to assist each other in case of a threat or attack against any member. According to IR theorists, alliances emerge from states' attempts to maintain a balance of power in the regional or international system. That means "states join alliances to defend themselves from states or coalitions whose superior resources could pose a threat." An alliance agreement typically includes shared obligations and common defence strategies. Furthermore, it can be bilateral, multilateral, defensive or offensive. The United States–Japan security alliance is an example of a bilateral alliance. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an example of a multilateral and defensive alliance. The 'Axis Powers' during the World War II represented an offensive alliance.

    'Strategic partnership' is a comparatively new concept in IR. These are less formal than alliances. The essence of the strategic partnership lies in cooperation between the states that share common objectives. Though security issues are central to strategic partnerships, the ambit of such partnerships can be quite broad, including trade, economy, technology, and so on. Since it offers immense scope for interaction in multiple areas, the strategic partnership became one of the most desired modes of states' engagement in contemporary global politics. India has signed more than 30 strategic partnerships with various countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, China and the European Union.

    The Quad or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the United States is not a formal alliance. Rather, it is a loose-knit strategic grouping of like-minded partners desiring a broader purpose. Though many often cast it as an 'alliance in the making', the group members are reluctant about creating the impression that the group is a formal alliance. Nevertheless, some scholars argue that Quad is currently 'underbalancing' China and, in future, it can be solidified and matured into a defensive alliance.

    Posted on 01 November 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.