How to Make Alliances Succeed Across Multiple Dimensions of Power: Atlantic, Indo-Pacific, and Historical Lessons

October 2021 No Comments

Speaker(s): Sawers, J. (Former Head of MI6); Schoff, J. (Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA); Westad , A. (Yale University)

Date: 19 October 2021

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Sir John Sawers (Former Head of MI6), James Schoff (Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA), and Odd Arne Westad (Yale University), as part of its SMA UK MoD Strategic Advantage Speaker Series.

Managing political alliances and relationships for the US is crucial as its international strategic competition for influence with China continues to escalate. Sir John commented that successful alliances are usually defined by three factors: a) clarity of purpose among members, b) trust and reliability between members, and c) members’ willingness to perform their roles as leaders, followers, and stewards of their individual relationships. Less powerful or less wealthy alliance members can share the burden of collecting information, collecting resources, or carrying out crucial operations. Mr. Schoff commented that competition or poor communication between allies can cause the alliance to weaken or fall apart. Also, it is important that members of an alliance articulate a coherent strategy and mission statement to maintain their operational focus and purpose. This clear and strong communication is especially important as the strategic environment continues to evolve and change. 

Dr. Westad commented that understanding the history surrounding current and past alliances is crucial to understanding how they may adapt over time. Also, it is vital to recognize that strategic competition with China is not the same as competition was with Russia during the Cold War. Having a single peer competitor allowed the US and the rest of NATO to become the most successful alliance in history. Today, many more countries can compete with information operations, their militaries, and their economies, which creates a more multipolar world order than during the first Cold War. This increased amount of multipolarity between the US, its partners, and its adversaries will increase the need to be ready for more security compromises. However, there should always be a central objective that all alliance members can focus on achieving.

Speaker Session Recording

Note: We are aware that many government IT providers have blocked access to YouTube from government machines during the pandemic in response to bandwidth limitations. We recommend viewing the recording on YouTube from a non-government computer or listening to the audio file (below), if you are in this position.

Briefing Materials

19 October Event Booklet


Submit A Comment