As null sec politics continues to evolve and the disintegration and destruction of Atlas and Against ALL Authorities alliances plays out, it is becoming obvious that coalitions are the norm and not the exception.
Coalition - a group of alliances with degrees of cooperation, coordination, and integration.
Couple that with the changes wrought by Dominion's new sov mechanics that leads to the introduction of more and more smaller alliances rather than the multi-region spanning empires of the past, and coalitions seem to be growing in complexity and variety. For example, you have the "many alliances on equal footing" of the Northern Coalition which can be contrasted to the "Big Brother - Little Brothers" coalition that Against ALL Authorities led with the New Providence Holders.
But why do coalitions exist?
I'm not looking for the easy answer here as anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the advantages of outnumbering your opponent. Hell, the origins of coalitions goes all the way back to the first two amoebas in the primordial soup agreeing to split a meal out of a third.
No, the real question I'm asking today (and hoping to start answering) is why do coalitions exist in Eve? In other words, why are alliances, with no upper limit on size, not the top level organizational grouping? After all, there are disadvantages to a coalition compared to an alliance. You need to maintain some communication channels that can possibly be compromised; alliances have built in support for mail and chat channel. You need to maintain standings not only with other coalition members but other entities that have good/bad standings to your coalition (i.e. the infamous "well he shows neutral to me"). Jump bridges, cyno beacons, outposts, POS access... they are all tied to alliance membership and are difficult to share to coalition members (I know jump bridges can be utilized but can anyone confirm you can only "see" cyno beacons of alliance members?).
So why are coalitions becoming the default top level organizational entities?
1) Pride of the Flag. No one wants to bend their knee to someone else's flag. In other words, if you worked hard in an alliance to build it up, you don't want to throw away to join another alliance. This is also a primary reason why corporations don't often merge into one despite having many of the same goals.
2) True integration is difficult. While two alliances might work well together in a coalition, merging into one alliance means a lot more day to day interaction and determining who is responsible for what. Very few (if any) successful alliances are operated under a council of equals. So if two dictatorship alliances are to merge, who becomes the boss?
3) In order to integrate, you have to dismantle. Current mechanics are such that in order for two alliances to merge, one has to drop all its sovereignty, upgrades, standings, etc. Too much hassle.
4) Leaving alliances are costly, leaving a coalition is not. Pretty much for the same reasons above
And the most important one...
5) Alliances function like corporations should have.
This is the crux of the issue. The reason we have coalitions is because alliances are not proper alliances; they are parent corporations. What I mean by this is that a lot of functionality that should be the purview of corporations in null sec mechanics has been subjugated into alliances. Corporations should own space, not alliances. Alliances should merely be a wrapper for corporations to control standings with a common channel and evemail grouping. This would allow corporations to move to and fro alliance groupings without having to dismantle everything they have built up (excepting jump bridges).
If alliances became lighter and less solid entities, the solidity and derived power diverted to corporations, than alliances could be more encompassing as culture and identity are locked in the corporations and not alliance. There could be a Northern Coalition alliance as individual corporations become the stakeholders in the space and outposts.
This, of course, will never happen. CCP has too much code invested in alliances as they are now and it is easier to allow things to hobble along as they have evolved than to upset the applecart again.
Still, a guy can dream.