Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Political Science

Committee Chair

Joe D Hagan

Committee Co-Chair

Boris Barkanov

Committee Member

R Scott Crichlow

Committee Member

Robert Duval

Committee Member

Erik Herron


This comparative foreign policy dissertation examines small state alignment in the post-Soviet space. Specifically, I ask what explains change and continuity in the strategic alignment patterns of former Soviet states with the United States and Russian Federation since the end of the Cold War? To answer this question, I analyze the alignment trajectories of ruling governments in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine from 1995 to 2015. While neorealists expect these materially weak states to bandwagon with Russia because of threat or power considerations, the empirical reality does not consistently support these theoretical expectations. What has occurred is that at different times since the demise of the Soviet Union, ruling governments in Baku, Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Kiev have operated in a gray zone, sometimes pursing a closer alignment with either Moscow, Washington, or both.;By collecting data via elite interviews, a scenario-based experiment, and archival research of primary and secondary sources, this study takes a constructivist approach that employs qualitative and quantitative techniques to conclude three ideational factors---a political leader's ideas about the state's identity, his/her threat perceptions, and foreign policy orientation as conditioned by domestic politics---more so than the balance of threat or power, independently shape the alignment patterns of former Soviet states. This is not to say systemic and other unit-level factors are of little consequence. On the contrary, these considerations help condition the preferences and actions of leading political elites in the ruling government moving them along a non-static continuum towards one of two forms of small state alignment: positive bandwagoning or great power bridging. It is through a multi-level analysis this study garners a more holistic understanding of the alignment tendencies of ruling governments in countries along Russia's geographical periphery since the end of the Cold War.;This research project advances our cumulative knowledge on small state alignment by developing a model that shows how and why ruling governments in former Soviet states will align with one regional great power over another. Using social identity and self-categorization theory as touchstones, this study looks beyond Stephen Walt's balance of threat theory to advance an ideational-based model where the predominate alignment preferences and strategies of political leaders in Russia's borderlands is best understood as positive bandwagoning or great power bridging. Knowledge from this research project responds directly to research priorities established by the United States Army. Additionally, this dissertation can assist academics and practitioners alike by improving their understanding of small state alignment leading to new research and viable policies that advance U.S. interests in the 21 st century.