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The Theory of Collective Action and Burden Sharing in NATO

John R. Oneal
International Organization
Vol. 44, No. 3 (Summer, 1990), pp. 379-402
Published by: MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2706781
Page Count: 24
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The Theory of Collective Action and Burden Sharing in NATO
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Abstract

Mancur Olson's theory of collective action could account for much of the variance in the defense burdens of the allied nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the early years of the Cold War, but the association between economic size (gross domestic product, or GDP) and defense burden (the ratio of military expenditures to GDP) has declined to insignificant levels. Two influences are shown to be important in producing this change: the increased pursuit of private goods by Greece, Turkey, and Portugal and the growing cooperation among the other European allies. Since cooperation in the military realm has not provided the Europeans with credible means of self-defense, it appears to be a consequence of the general growth of interdependence in Europe during the postwar period. NATO is still essentially a uniquely privileged group producing a relatively pure public good. Accordingly, the theory of collective action continues to provide valuable insights into the operation of the alliance.

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