It’s not always the Prisoner’s Dilemma: Military Deployments Edition

Troop deployments in 1955.
US Troop Levels in 1955. Michael Flynn put this together using data from Kane (2000).  This map did not make it into the final paper.

During the Russian invasion of Crimea, I previously mentioned that I, Julie VanDusky-Allen, and Michael Flynn, were working on a research project that examined the effect that hosting varying amounts of foreign (i.e. US) troops has on the defense spending of local and regional governments. Earlier this week, that article became available in Foreign Policy Analysis’ Early View.

If you have taught game theory long enough, or if you have read enough anecdotes by people who have, one thing that you learn is that students, once they have learned and consumed the lessons from the Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD), seem to see it everywhere—even when it is not appropriate.  If you get students who have had a brief introduction to Game Theory and give them a simultaneous game to play against other students, some will often assume the game is a variant of PD and that they should defect against (or exploit) their partner.  The prisoner’s dilemma is a powerful tool in understanding n-actor collective action problems in contemporary politics, but the PD does not always manifest in every social or political interaction.  In Olson’s terms, both small groups and privileged groups may overcome the PD problem inherent in collective action by their very composition or structure. Our FPA article offers a pivotal distinction between states that free-ride as if they were in a PD situation versus states that produce more of a good even when another member is providing a significant portion of the collective good they want.

Troop deployments in 2000
US Troop Levels in 1955. Michael Flynn put this together using data from Kane (2000). This map did not make it into the final version of the paper.

Our research draws upon a series of different models to arrive at a divergence in behavior.  Fundamentally, we argue that the average state exhibits the behavior we expect from a guns versus butter provision of goods and, when they get an increase in one particular good, they limit their production of their own provision of that good (i.e. guns) in order to meet the societal demand of the other good (i.e. butter).  In this context, we expect a normal state that enters into an alliance with a more powerful state gains the possibility to essentially outsource its provision of security. Thus, looking at defense spending, we expect a state that hosts more US troops (an external infusion of security) will decrease its military spending when compared to similar states or its past behavior. In terms of collective action, this allows other states to free-ride on the United States.  Of course, this is not entirely to the detriment of the United States.  Lake’s (1999; 2009) work on alliances and hierarchical compacts gives us traction on how this creates some layers of hierarchy in the international system favorable for the United States and Morrow’s (1991) pivotal article on asymmetric alliances correctly points out that weaker states are likely trading foreign policy autonomy for this infusion of security goods.

NATO allies, on the other hand, are less likely to free-ride on this provision of good.  While it has been a common complaint that non-American NATO members consistently underfund their commitment to the alliance, the alliance is less hierarchical (more anarchical) than other US relationships with weaker states and the common threat to European states can offer a joint-production model of security provision instead of a collective action problem model.  We expect, and find, that higher numbers of troops in NATO countries correlates with higher defense spending by NATO members.  This result remains consistent in the post-Cold War era.

We also find that large US deployments in a region correlates with positive spending by countries.  This result is pretty interesting as well and likely stems from both an exogenous threat that prompts deployments and spending as well as states that may be threaten by an influx of US troops in its neighboring countries.

US Troops Germany photo
Through the Eyes of a Paratrooper: 173rd Jumps in Ukraine for Rapid Trident 2011 by U.S. Army Europe Images Photo by U.S. Army Europe Images


Michael A. Allen

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

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