Forming Battlefield Coalitions: The Role of Logistics and the Burma Campaign
Rosella Cappella Zielinsky
September 28, 2022 12:00PM
Under what conditions do coalition partners fighting alongside each other in a war take the next step and field their forces together in battle? While states frequently go to war with partners, they do not always fight side-by-side on the battlefield. Existing scholarship focuses largely on the motives of coalition partners to deepen their cooperation when considering why such actors fight battles together. We argue that, for coalition partners to employ their forces side-by-side in combat, they require the opportunity as well as the motive to do so. More specifically, we contend that coalition partners’ logistical capacities—their abilities to transport and sustain troops and associated equipment to the battlefield—exert a powerful influence on the creation of battlefield coalitions.
We explore our logic through an examination of the Allied attempts to liberate Burma during World War II. From 1941-1945, the British, the British Indian Army, the Chinese, and the United States considered and coordinated their efforts in Burma, at times fighting alongside each other and at times going at it alone. The limited logistical capacities of American and Chinese forces in-theatre constrained the Allies’ efforts at creating battlefield coalitions, while British logistical capacity facilitated the United Kingdom launching solo operations that serviced their strategic individual strategic requirements rather than those of the collective. Implications and paths for future research are considered.
Rosella Cappella Zielinski is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston University, a senior visiting fellow at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin, and non-resident fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University. She specializes in the study of conflict with an emphasis on how states mobilize their resources for war. She is the author of How States Pay for Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016) winner of the 2017 American Political Science Association Robert L. Jervis and Paul W. Schroeder Best Book Award in International History and Politics. She has authored various academic articles, op-eds, and policy reports.