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date: 25 September 2022

Foundations of Rivalry Researchlocked

Foundations of Rivalry Researchlocked

  • David R. DreyerDavid R. DreyerDepartment of Political Science, Lenoir-Rhyne University


Though rivalry is not isolated to international politics, interstate rivalries are particularly important given their conflict propensities and destructiveness. Tremendous progress has been made in determining the causes of rivalry initiation, maintenance, escalation, and termination. The empirical results of such research rest on how rivalry has been conceptualized and operationalized.

There are several approaches to conceptualizing and operationalizing rivalry. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses. Dispute density approaches, which identify rivals as states that engage in repeated instances of militarized conflict over time, have higher levels of measurement reliability than validity. The strategic rivalry approach, on the other hand, which identifies rivals as states that view one another as threatening competitors and enemies, has a higher level of measurement validity than reliability. This review provides an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of scholarly approaches used for identifying cases of rivalry.

Existing rivalry research provides a foundation from which to further develop rivalry approaches. Given that the concept of rivalry has only recently been applied outside of the dyadic interstate context, intrastate and complex rivalry conceptualization and operationalization warrants further exploration. Due to the existence of several mature dyadic interstate rivalry approaches, developing additional distinct approaches for the dyadic interstate context is less imperative than integrating existing approaches. There are several ways this can potentially be done, such as by combining elements of multiple perspectives in ways that minimize weaknesses, through conceptual mapping, or by developing an ordinal measure of rivalry.


  • World Politics

Updated in this version

Content and references updated to reflect the latest developments in the field. In particular, the “Dispute Density Approaches” section was updated to include coverage of recent research (Diehl and colleagues “Peace Scale”).

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