Virtually all models of power shifts in international politics have assumed only two actors. In such settings, when expected shifts in power are sufficiently large, conflict becomes very difficult to avoid. This paper demonstrates how the addition of third parties can facilitate peaceful power shifts in a multilateral system. Specifically, declining states might rationally abet the power of a rising threat in order to induce balancing from third parties. Even though doing so would increase the direct threat the riser poses to the decliner, it would also increase the threat that the riser poses to the decliner's potential allies.
Whereas these states would otherwise have been inclined to free-ride on the decliner and remain on the sidelines, the increase in the riser’s strength galvanises it to balance with the decliner, thereby making the decliner more secure than it would have been with no allies against a weaker threat. This, in turn, mitigates the commitment problem and forestalls preventive conflict. Such “balancing by appeasement” occurs when the third party is sufficiently powerful to swing the bargaining outcome in the declining state’s favor despite the riser’s gains from appeasement. The argument is illustrated with case studies of the 1887 Mediterranean Agreements, the lead-up to WWII, and US-China-Soviet relations in the 1970s, and applied to contemporary US foreign policy.
Brandon Yoder joined SPIR in 2020. He holds a Ph.D. in foreign affairs from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in neurobiology from Cornell University. He has previously worked at Old Dominion University, Yale-NUS College, and the National Univeristy of Singapore, where he also holds a concurrent appointment as a visiting research fellow in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His work centers on how states can communicate their intentions and avoid conflict, with a focus on China's foreign relations. His articles have appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, International Organization, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and elsewhere.