Alignment Politics in the Former Soviet Union

by Stephanie Parenti

The alignment behavior in the western republics of the Former Soviet Union has varied from rapid policy coordination with the West to complete contempt of Western alignment. This variation in balancing or bandwagoning behavior within the same region is important for researchers to understand the systemic and domestic causes of alignment, as there are competing theories on the subject. Decision-makers have a better opportunity to apply accurate policy when more is known about alignments. The literature tends to focus little on the Former Soviet Union’s foreign policy and more so on nationalism and regime change[1]. The writings are less comparative and centered on internal dynamics, and understandably so, however one cannot tell the whole story of foreign policy decision making through such a narrow lens. This study intends to fill the gap in the literature on relations with the former Soviet Union. This research suggests that high levels of democracy and a good trade relationship does more for alignment to the West than does net bilateral aid flows or good economic status within an aligning country.

Alignments in this project are measured through voting practices of the Former Soviet States in the United Nations General Assembly. The nine case studies, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and the Southern Caucasus, show variation in their voting practices. From the years of 1991-2011 these practices have changed. The Baltics remain a constant, but as they become more economically stable, they become more independent in their policy coordination. Eastern Europe distanced itself from the US in their voting until this last decade. The Southern Caucasus has stable voting practices against the US policies, showing a high lack of alignment despite high net bilateral aid flows. Previous theories about alliance politics do not universally apply to these countries[2], leaving the need to study a combination of structural alignment theories and domestic theories of alignment.

This project responds to the theories put forth by Kenneth Waltz and Stephen Walt[3] on balancing behavior, and contends that neither provides an overarching explanation to the alignment policies being seen today, and in the case of this study, in the former Soviet region. Instead, Hegemonic Stability Theory[4] has the most explanatory power and contends that states balance against the status quo, not power or threats which are not empirically observed in this study. Using the Democratic Peace Theory as well, this study finds that the globalizing systems of democracy and free-trade can cause states to either bandwagon with the West or balance against hegemony.

I used linear regression analysis based on data from 1991 to 2011 to derive these findings. I included independent variables of GDP, economic growth, net bilateral aid flows, exports from the US to the former Soviet region[5], and democracy levels[6]. I found that controlling for all other variables, large countries, such as Ukraine, are less likely to vote with the US in the General Assembly. In this sense, they are more independent in their policy coordination than small states like Latvia. Economic growth is also a major driving factor for alignments. Low GDP growth pushes countries to seek allies in order to extract resources from, either via aid or trade. However, the study shows that large quantities of net bilateral aid actually detracts from the alignment seeking behavior, as aid increases the coincidence of voting with the US decreases. Countries aligned with the US more frequently, i.e. voted more consistently with the US in the General Assembly, if they were more democratic or had high levels of trade with the US.

Conclusively, this project finds that the hegemonic stability theory helps contribute to this new hypothesis on alliance politics in the unipolar world, finding that states might actually balance against hegemony/globalization. The fact that bilateral aid decreases alignment but improved trade increases it gives weight to the “Trade Not Aid” argument that needs to be further researched. In addition, democratization also positively correlates which adds knowledge for policy-makers on democracy promotion policies. Finally, the study shows that domestic conditions like regime type, GDP, and economic growth do, in fact, play a role in policy coordination. The use of this knowledge is invaluable to both theorists and policy-makers.


[1] Károly Attila Soós. Politics and Policies in Post-Communist Transition : Primary and Secondary Privatisation in Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union. (Central European University Press, 2011).

Lonnie Johnson. Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbours, Friends . (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Arthur T. Laine. Economic, Political, and Social Issues of the Caucasus Region. (Nova Science Publishers, 2011).

Margarita Balmaceda. Energy dependency, politics and corruption in the former Soviet Union : Russia’s power, oligarchs’ profits and Ukraine’s missing energy policy, 1995-2006. (London; New York: Routledge, 2008).

Ohannes Geukjian. Ethnicity, Nationalism and Conflict in the South Caucasus : Nagorno-Karabakh and the Legacy of Soviet Nationalities Policy. (Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2008).

[2]Michael Mastanduno, David Lake, and G. John Ikenberry, “Towards and Realist Theory of State Action,” International Studies Quarterly, 33 (1989): 457-474.

Michael Barnett, and Jack Levy, “Domestic sources of Alliances and Alignments: the Case of Egypt, 1972-73.

[3] Kenneth Waltz, Anarchic Orders and Balances of Power, (New York: Newberry Award Records, Inc., 1979), 95-116.

Stephen Walt, “Testing Theories of Alliance Formation: The Case of Southwest Asia, “International Organization, 42, no. 2 (1988): 275-315.

[4] Mark, Sheetz. “Debating the Unipolar Moment.” International Security. 00. no. 3 (1997): 168-172.

[5] World Bank, “Documents and Reports.” Last modified 2012. Accessed September 24, 2012. http://www.worldbank.org/reference/.

[6] Polity IV Project, “Political Regime Characteristics.” Last modified 2012. Accessed September 24, 2012. http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/polity4.htm.

Stephanie Parenti is a soon-to-be Foreign Service Officer, beginning her A-100 training this September. She is currently in her final semester of her MA program at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. As a Thomas R. Pickering Fellow, Stephanie specializes in Eastern European foreign policy, international security, and international organizations. Stephanie received her Bachelors at the University of Central Florida where she published her thesis on Neo-colonialism. Stephanie has also been published through the Student Conference on US Affairs at the West Point Military Academy for a group policy paper on US-African Relations. Stephanie has had a majority of her experience working for the State Department, but has also worked for Senator Bill Nelson of Florida when an undergraduate. Stephanie is married to her husband, Matthew, and they are looking forward to their new beginnings in D.C. 

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One thought on “Alignment Politics in the Former Soviet Union

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