Decline and Devotion: The Sources of Strategic Military Retrenchment

Haynes, Kyle Elliot, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Copeland, Dale, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Legro, Jeff, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Owen, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Hitchcock, Will, Department of History, University of Virginia

Under what conditions do declining states voluntarily withdraw from or retract their international security commitments? This dissertation develops a ―devolutionary‖ model of military retrenchment in which declining states pursue varying retrenchment strategies across their multiple regional commitments. I argue that a declining state will voluntarily withdraw from a region only when it has a suitable ―successor state‖ to which it can devolve its vital regional responsibilities. The suitability of a successor, importantly, is determined by the compatibility of its strategic preferences (i.e. threat perceptions) with the declining state, and its military capacity to maintain regional order. Finally, the importance of the region to the declining state determines precisely how much retrenchment a given successor will facilitate. I test the devolutionary model against several competing explanations, and find it to be a superior theory of military retrenchment. Examinations of British naval policy prior to WWI, American postVietnam strategy under the Nixon Doctrine, Britain's post-WWII withdrawal from East of Suez, and the Soviet withdrawal from Eastern Europe under Gorbachev form the empirical basis of the dissertation. This project advances the shockingly underdeveloped literature on military retrenchment, while contributing to several other prominent literatures in international relations. It also speaks directly to the strategic dilemmas facing the United States as it attempts to navigate the rise of China while enduring an ―age of austerity‖ in the wake of the recent financial crisis.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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