Dzianis Melyantsou, Siarhei Bohdan, Yauheni Preiherman,
Alisiya Ivanova

It is only natural that researchers of international relations tend to focus on the interests and initiatives of major states, especially the superpowers. It is these actors that outline the rules of the game in world politics and set global trends. They are the ones primarily responsible for chalking out the development patterns of military blocs and other international organizations. However, the exclusive focus on the leading states frequently leaves many important details beyond the framework of analysis. The great powers and regional hegemons are surrounded by a large number of less powerful states, which, despite their unimpressive characteristics, are capable of introducing serious changes and distortions into the international agenda.  Especially given their membership in various international organizations and their overall increased capacity compared to the Cold War period.

Therefore, the role and policies of the small members of politico-military alliances should never be overlooked, despite the fact that they frequently operate in the shadow of the great powers. Their multiple vulnerabilities and narrow room for maneuver make small states a lot more sensitive to changes in the military and political landscape. Because of this, they have a particularly well-developed sense of danger, self-preservation instinct, and propensity to minimize security risks,  which often prompt these smaller countries to take decisive actions that can produce both positive and negative impacts on military blocs and regional security in general. Specifically, they can either encourage major actors to develop “designs for regional stability” , or, conversely, prevent mutually beneficial agreements.

This factor gains most significance in the course of structural changes in the system of international relations, especially during the times when the former model no longer fulfills its basic functions of ensuring peace and security, whereas the configuration of the emerging model is not yet clear. That is, in periods of increased uncertainty and, to use James Rosenau’s term, “turbulence”: when “the structures and processes that normally sustain world politics are unsettled and appear to be undergoing rearrangement.”

The contemporary world has obviously entered this historic realm. The system of international relations established after the conclusion of the Cold War, based on the U.S.’ “unipolar moment” and liberal principles, 6 is developing into a new quality through erosion and transformation. This process is accompanied, inter alia, by disrupted effectiveness and undermined authority of international law, diminished functionality of international organizations, and dissemination of the transactional model of relationships even among allies. The situation being what it is, scholars have already started arguing about the onset of the post-Alliance era, 7 when stable politico-military blocs are giving way to ad hoc, project-based coalitions of states.

Project centricity and transactionalism are indeed routinely becoming the pillars of international security engagement. The establishment of ad hoc coalitions based on shared interests appears to be increasingly widespread, given the frequent failure to reach consensus within both the UN Security Council, the main global authority for maintaining peace and security, and individual politico-military blocs. However, this trend is probably not yet enough to declare the end of the post-Alliance era and, consequently, draw the conclusion that classical alliances are gradually being phased out.

At the very least, amidst “turbulence” and ensuing dysfunction of international institutions, it is on politico-military blocs that the matters of war and peace in many parts of the world will continue to rely. If alliances can no longer play their stabilizing role, the challenges and threats to security in some regions of the world will quickly begin to expand exponentially.