Abstract: Scholars of international communication recognize that strategic narratives are important for policymaking (Miskimmon, O’Loughlin, & Roselle, 2013) and scholars studying alliances suggest that communication is central to the formation and maintenance of alliances (Weitsman, 2010). This essay addresses how strategic narratives affect US alliance behavior—and hence international order—in two specific ways. First, alliance behavior can be affected by other allies’ narratives as demonstrated in the case of military intervention in Libya in 2011. Here the evidence suggests that the UK and France were able to use strategic narratives to influence the decision of the US to agree to military intervention in Libya by using narratives that could evoke a fear of abandonment. Second, alliance cohesion can be affected by narrative contestation by non-allies as demonstrated in the case of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Russia has used strategic narratives in a new media environment in an attempt to elicit a fear of entrapment to counter the US attempts to coordinate alliance support for economic sanctions. In both cases, distinguishing between system, identity, and policy narratives give us a deeper understanding of narrative contestation today. This analysis adds to our understanding of the factors that affect alliances set within a new media environment characterized by a proliferation of sources and outlets and thus a more horizontal structure of information exchange.
Keywords: alliances; European Union; Libya; Russia; strategic narratives; Ukraine