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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Brent T. Gerchicoff, Political Science

The Dynamics of Containment: Alliance Structures and the Domestic Politics of Foreign Policy

Wednesday, June 30, 2021 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer


On line

When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Containment policy has been the dominant grand strategy of the United States throughout the second half of the twentieth century. This dissertation answers the following question: What variation is likely given different structural alliance configurations and domestic constraints? This dissertation will test the relationship between the cause, e.g. alliance cohesion (and domestic structures as the intervening variable) and resulting effect, type containment (proto-, containment, rollback) implemented by US. Through case study methodology and primary source textual analysis, I will test this argument against the Cold War historical record.

This dissertation finds that the dependent variable of foreign policy, specifically the typology of containment is largely determined by the independent variable, alliance cohesion (e.g. whether the alliance partners are balancing or bandwagoning with the alliance leader, or if the state fears the leader will not fulfill its defensive commitments). This relationship, with the inclusion of executive autonomy or constraint in domestic structures (IVV) is largely responsible for the foreign policy output by the United States in all but one of the case studies used to test this dissertation’s argument. The deviating case study demonstrates that the Carter Administration’s neglecting the alliance cohesion – containment policy axis led to, in effect, being selected out of American leadership and the Ronald Reagan reset with alliance politics and containment foreign policy at the forefront of the Administration’s foreign relations.

The discussion of containment strategies is a critical contemporary issue given the recent rise of the People’s Republic of China threatening to surpass the United States as the most powerful state in the international system, likely with hegemonic ambitions. Given that containment is a foreign policy short of war, makes this a strategy worth considering when confronting the reality of a rising nuclear revisionist power. At the time of this writing, there is no model that lays out the theoretical conditions which decision-makers will implement a policy of containment. This dissertation builds this theory. In demonstrating containment as a grand strategy that resides within a theoretical framework of a security policy short of war will open up possible foreign policy alternatives for states to consider.

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