Entente and alliance



Entente, meaning a diplomatic “understanding”, may refer to a number of historical agreements like The Entente Cordiale, The Triple Entente or The Little Entente. Entente (a version of alliance), a type of treaty or military alliance where the signatories promise to consult each other or to cooperate with each other in case of a crisis or military action.

Entente is an international understanding providing for a common course of action. The states involved form a coalition to an entente.  It has been found that during wars, signatories of ententes are less likely to assist each other than signatories of defense pacts but more likely than signatories of non-aggression pacts. It has also been found that great powers are less likely to start wars against their partners in ententes than against their partners in nonaggression and defensive pacts or states with no alliance with them.

The present Moscow-Beijing relationship, while not an alliance, is today more than the strategic partnership as it is still called such. It is perhaps best described as an entente, a basic agreement-like state of affairs about the fundamentals of world order supported by a strong position of common interest. The entente embodies best the recent rise of a more politically and militarily assertive Russia and an economically and institutionally ascendant China as the two principal forces challenging the United States in global policymaking on the world stage.


Alliance is a formal or informal relationship of security cooperation between two or more sovereign states. This assumes some level of commitment and an exchange of benefits for both parties. If severing the relationship or failing to honor the agreement would presumably cost something, even if it were compensated in other ways.

An alliance is a relationship among states that have joined together for mutual benefit or to achieve some common purpose, whether or not explicit agreement has been worked out among them.Members of an alliance are called allies. Alliances form in many settings, including political alliances or military alliances. Alliances are a necessary function of the balance of power / balance of threat, operating in international system of sovereign states.

When the term is used in the context of war or armed struggle, such associations may also be called allied powers, especially when discussing WWI or WWII.  More recently, the term “allied forces” has also been used to describe the coalition of the Gulf War, as opposed to forces the Multi-National Forces in Iraq which are commonly referred to as “coalition forces”.

According to Walt, alliances are a response to threat. When confronted by a significant external threat, states may either balance or bandwagon. Balancing is defined as allying with others against the prevailing threat. Bandwagoning refers to alignment with the source of threat. The terms were used also by Kenneth Waltz (1979).