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The Steps to War: Theory and Evidence  

Andrew P. Owsiak

The steps-to-war theory maintains that war results from the issues under dispute and how states handle these issues. Its foundation rests on the territorial explanation of war, which argues that territorial issues are more conflict-prone than non-territorial ones because these issues constitute a salient security threat that realism recommends be addressed via power politics (i.e., the use of force, including alliance- and armament-building). When states employ power politics, however, the dispute festers, thereby causing recurring militarized conflict; creating feelings of threat, enmity, and competition (i.e., rivalry); producing counter-alliances and arms races; and generally building the more hostile, war-prone world that states originally sought to avoid. Each step taken—from a territorial dispute to rivalry (i.e., recurring militarized disputes) to alliance-building to armament building—therefore increases the probability that war will occur. Existing empirical evidence supports the steps-to-war theory’s predictions in numerous ways. Tests of the entire theory, for example, demonstrate the dangerousness of territorial disputes, the tendency to manage territorial disputes via power politics, and that individual steps reinforce one another. Other bodies of research connect the individual steps directly to the likelihood that war will occur or highlight the connections between these individual steps—much as the theory predicts. Despite strong empirical support, however, much work remains to be done. Future research should consider the sequencing of the steps to war, investigate why the effects of certain steps vary across different epochs (e.g., alliances differ in their effects on war during the 18th and 19th centuries), identify the alternative paths to war, and study the paths to peace more explicitly—as obtaining peace may not be as simple as removing the known causes of war.

Article

Arms Buildups and the Use of Military Force  

David F. Mitchell and Jeffrey Pickering

The empirical literature on arms buildups and the use of interstate military force has advanced considerably over the last half century. Research has largely confirmed that a relationship exists between arms buildups and the subsequent use of force, although it is historically contingent. The relationship seems to have existed in some earlier historical periods but has not been a feature of international politics since 1945. Broader work such as the steps-to-war model brings understanding to such variation by demonstrating how arms races are interrelated with other causes of conflict, such as territorial disputes and alliances. Still, many important dimensions of the arms race–conflict connection remain to be explored. Differences between qualitative and quantitative arms races, for example, have not received sufficient empirical scrutiny. Precise theory also needs to be developed on direct and indirect relationships between arms races and conflict, and such theory requires empirical investigation.