Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Avery Goldstein

Second Advisor

Alex Weisiger


Commitments of alignment from smaller states are central to the efforts of major powers to manipulate the regional and international systems in which they operate, and contestation over such commitments increasingly represents a persistent source of tension among major powers. Largely overlooked in the literature has been the active role of the smaller states and their agency in decisions of alignment. In my analysis, I highlight situations in which 1) there is explicit competition for alignment commitments between at least two major powers vying, through investment of time and resources, for influence over policy behavior, and 2) the smaller state is actively engaged in this competition. Smaller states face a simplified choice between three options: alignment with Major Power A, alignment with Major Power B, or nonalignment through hedging. Alignment comes with material benefits to the smaller state but also a loss of policy autonomy; through a strategy of nonalignment through hedging, on the other hand, the smaller state retains a greater degree of policy freedom but loses the diplomatic, economic, and security support that comes with alignment. I argue that smaller states select major power patrons based on the strategy for building authority employed by the major power: inducement or coercion. I contend that inducements are the more effective strategy, as they offer ruling regimes in smaller states material benefits that bolster their survival prospects. This framework, in which such regimes can leverage their positions to their own benefit amidst major power competition, is better able to explain alignment outcomes than traditional theories focused on the threats to national or internal security or regime-type affinity. I apply my framework to investigate alignment decisions in Southeast Asia amid growing U.S.-China competition. Through primary and secondary sources, open-source research, and cross- and between-case comparison of alignment decisions in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines, I show the importance of inducements and coercion in smaller state alignment decisions.


Available to all on Saturday, July 05, 2025

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