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Volume 4

Expanded Contents | Figures | Tables


1. Perspective And Summary
2. International Relations
3. The International Actors
4. International Behavior Space-Time
5. International Expectations And Dispositions
6. International Actor And Situation
7. International Sociocultural Space-Time
8. Interests, Capabilities, And Wills
9. The Social Field Of International Relations
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative Dynamics Of International Conflict
14. Introduction To Propositions And Evidence On International Conflict
15. Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict
16. Causes And Conditions Of International Conflict And War
17. Ending Conflict And War: The Balance Of Powers
18. The International Conflict Helix
19. Theoretical And Empirical Conclusions On Conflict And War
20. Principles Of Peace And Conflict


15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
16A. On Causes of International Conflict
16B. Propositions and Their Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
16C. Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
17A. Propositions and Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of Ending International Conflict Behavior
18A. Descriptive Propositions on International Conflict
19A. Overall Evidence on 54 Social Field Propositions on International Conflict
19B. Primary Propositions on Social Conflict
I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations
II. Event Data: Bases of Empirical Conflict Analysis
III. Characteristics of Published Quantitative International Relations Studies

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 10

Latent International Conflict*

By R.J. Rummel

Things are seldom what they seem
Skim milk masquerades as cream
---- W.S. Gilbert, H.M.S. Pinafore II

Interaction between international actors is a process of balancing and balance, of disorder and order, of conflict and cooperation. Expectations are disrupted, overt conflict breaks out, new expectations are reformed, peace and cooperation ensue.

This process is continuous. Although structures of expectations may be stable for generations, interests shift, capabilities wither or increase, will becomes emboldened or timid, and expectations once aligned with interests, capabilities, and will, have only habit and inertia to withstand opposing forces. Only a trigger is needed to break up the old, initiate a new balancing, bring about a new structure of expectations. Such is an aspect, a turn on the conflict helix. Change is the constant of life.

The full process of conflict--the conflict helix--is pictured in Figure 29.1 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix and has been elaborated and detailed in Chapter 29 and Part VII of that Volume. My interest here is to make the latent conflict phase of this process more explicit in terms of the space-time components and behavioral equations outlined previously in Table 8.1. The elements, empirical concepts, and notation of the conflict helix to be discussed here are presented in Table 10.1.


The sociocultural space-time defines the level of potentiality for conflict; the potential forces towards conflict spread throughout this space-time and seated in the meanings, values and norms, status and class,1 of international actors. The components of this space-time (shown in Table 10.1) are a set of (linear) independent probability functions--latent functions--based on the attributes of actor's, and reflecting the underlying lines of sociocultural potentiality. An actor i is located in this space-time by his values (si) on each component (S) and this location defines behavioral force potentials--latent forces toward or away from conflict.

For example, the people of the Pacific Island nation of Tonga and the land-locked Central African Republic will be similarly or differently located in international space-time as they are similar or different in their state's wealth and power, politics and social conflict, culture and diversity, and so on. These relative locations reflect shared and distinct meanings, values, and norms; convergent and divergent status and class; and thus congruent, opposing, and different interests, capabilities, and expectations. Neither peoples may be in contact, however; neither may be aware of each other. But, these relative similarities and differences define their potential conflict and cooperation. Place a Tongan and a Central African next to each other, have them share a dormitory room while both are attending a foreign university, and this potential for conflict and cooperation will become actual. Similarly if representatives of Tonga and the Central African Republic come together to discuss and negotiate issues in an international organization.

Through acculturation, socialization and individual experience, international actors develop a lattice of attitudes.2 These are clustered around an actor's superordinate goal, delineate his sentiments, and define his role dispositions.

Attitudes are goal and means potentials transformed into dispositions. Their development structures the conflict space. The attitudes of international actors make possible the structure of conflict between them.


Through a variety of means--education, movies, television, radio, ethnic jokes, travel, contact, transactions--international actors become aware of each other. Awareness transforms potential opposition into opposing dispositions. It creates the structure of conflict. Awareness is the first theoretical element3 in this structure, the second level of latent conflict.

The structure of conflict is the disposition or tendency to conflict. Along with awareness, it comprises opposing attitudes (inactive--dispositional--interests) between actors and their attendant means (relative capabilities). On the empirical plane, this structure is reflected in the physical and sociocultural distances (vectors) between actors.

Now attitudes lie along the sociocultural distances between actors: their differences and similarities in meanings, values, norms, status and class define their opposing attitudes.4 And these distances reflect vector forces in the psychological space of an actor. They define latent motivations toward behavior. The distance vectors between all actors on all the sociocultural components then embody the variety of motivational (attitudinal) forces latent within the conflict structure.

To retrace the logic, international actors have differing latent attitudes expressing their ends, wants, and goals, and the means to achieve them. Within the structure of conflict these attitudes are inactive; they are dispositional forces waiting for stimulation. Moreover, attitudes cluster into particular patterns which lie along the components of sociocultural space. There are attitudes involved with wealth, politics, power, and so on. Therefore, the differences and similarities between actors in their attitudes are along these components. And it follows, then, that the distances between them on these components then embody these differences in attitudes.

But do differences mean opposing attitudes? To answer this, consider again the sociocultural components delineating the space-time of international actors. The poles of the components are wealth versus poverty, powerful versus weak, totalitarian versus liberal democratic, authoritarian versus liberal democratic, Catholic versus non-Catholic, and so on. Clearly, these poles denote potentially opposing attitudes, and distances on these dimensions then reflect this.5

However, this is not to imply that only differences on these components measure opposition. Similarity in high power status may as well (Chapter 17 and Chapter 18 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix) reflect opposing attitudes, that of the strong who may see their strength as means of manifesting their differing attitudes along other components.

As a final point of clarification, note that attitudes comprise goals, that which an actor wants. But again, these are latent, inactive goal dispositions. At this level distance vectors reflect the opposition towards which actors are disposed by their latent goals.

In addition to awareness and opposing attitudes, a third theoretical element in the structure of conflict is capabilities,6 the base or resources for power in all its forms, whether coercive, bargaining, authoritative, or (as in much violence and war) physical. Here the wealth, type of political system, size, culture, and the like, of an actor's state, as well as his individual abilities and resources, are all relevant, depending on the situation, form of power, and object. These capabilities relative to another actor are measured by the distance vectors.

Distances in power (coercive), in wealth, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, size, and so on, not only describe opposing attitudes but capabilities as well. For example, the distance along the power component between two actors reflects as a whole and in itself their difference in national income, energy resources, energy production, population size, political centralization, defense expenditures, and armed forces--all capabilities for coercion or force.7

Such is the structure of conflict, as shown in Table 10.1: awareness, and opposing attitudes, and capabilities as empirically measured by sociocultural distances.8 The structure of conflict defines the tendency to oppose, to conflict, to struggle. But this tendency is inactive, yet without strength.


The stimulation of the needs for security, self-assertion, protectiveness, and so on, energize attitudes. Stimulated needs empower dispositions and transform them into interests, vectors of power toward gratification.

But needs are not stimulated in a vacuum. They are linked to a perceived situation g, such as the threat of aggression, loss of human rights in another country, possibility of a profitable investment, and the like. Perceived situations stimulate needs and transform structures into actual conflict,9 attitudes into empowered interests. Such stimulation is the first theoretical element in the situation of conflict; for an actor at the empirical level it is defined by a situational parameter gi of Equations 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3, as shown in Table 10.1.

Interests--energized attitudes--are the second, essential theoretical element in the conflict situation and major forces towards behavior. These define the excited purposes, activated roles, felt sentiments, and most important, an actor's driving superordinate goal. Also essential is the third theoretical element, the means ingredient of interests, the relative capabilities of international actors--their differing coercive, authoritative, bargaining, and physical powers.10 Both opposing interests and relative capabilities are reflected in the sociocultural distances between actors. Which interests are stimulated and which relative capabilities are salient depend on the perceived situation.

Because both opposing attitudes and potential capabilities are reflected in sociocultural distances, opposing interests and relative capabilities are likewise empirically manifest. Distances measures both dispositional and dynamic levels, both the structure and situation of latent conflict. What distinguishes the two levels, what separates possible attitudes and potential capabilities from active empowered interests and salient capabilities is the perceived situation. The product of perceived situation and distance vector d discriminates between structure and situation.11 This is shown in Table 10.1.

Therefore, a particular product d means: the actor's situational perception of an object's relative (to the actor) interests and capabilities.12

The perceived situation is latent, however. While interests are engaged within a situation, behavior yet remains unaffected. Conflict is there, but beneath the surface. Therefore, the variation in gid,i-j for actor i's situation of conflict with j has yet no necessary correlation with the common, manifest behavior of i to j.

In a specific perceived situation of conflict g, the common interests and capabilities are theoretical, a cognitive framework for understanding the process of conflict at the level of dispositions and powers. Dynamic interests and relative capabilities transform behavioral potentials into an active tendency, a psychological force towards threatening, protesting, snubbing, attacking, accusing, sanctioning, and so on. But this behavioral disposition, while empowered, is yet latent, unmanifest.

How a behavioral disposition will be manifested in what specific behavior depends on the actor's expectation within a situation, the final element in the situation of conflict. Situational expectations of outcomes alter, suppress, or strengthen dispositions; they determine the final manifest behavior to follow from interests and relative capabilities. This situational expectation, hig, has been discussed in Chapter 6 and Chapter 8 and articulated in Equations 6.2 to 6.6, and 8.3 and 8.4; it is also listed in Table 10.1.13

However, note again that the situation of conflict is latent. Theoretically, the sociocultural distances d define the forces toward conflict behavior--the strain to conflict. But there may be no manifest interaction between actors or they may be interacting in some manner incidental to or independent from the conflict situation g. For the forces reflected in d have yet to be manifest: they are powers toward manifestation and it is the next stage in the process that makes these forces--opposing interests and relative capabilities--determinate.


* Scanned from Chapter 10 in R.J. Rummel, War, Power, Peace, 1979. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. Note omitted.

2. The attitudinal lattice is detailed in Chapter 21 of Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field (see especially Figure 21.1 and Figure 21.2).

3. In Figure 29.1 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix awareness was listed second in the structure of conflict. Here I have listed awareness first in order to highlight its role in transforming potentiality into disposition.

4. Beware of automatically interpreting large distances as large attitudinal opposition. Actually, similar distances may reflect predisposition to want the same thing, and thus conflict; large distances may mean that individuals have different interests and thus no opposition. For such an analysis of differences and similarities, see Chapter 6 of Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective. All I have done at this point is say that opposing interests lie along sociocultural distances, but I have not specified their direction of correlation.

5. Note that wealth versus poverty, and totalitarianism versus liberal democratic, comprise the North-South and East-West poles currently applied to explain major global conflicts.

6. Capability is a dispositional concept: it means the capacity or faculty for carrying out or doing something specific.

7. See Table 7.3.

8. In Figure 29.1 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, I was only concerned with displaying the major conceptional elements in the conflict helix. Because my task is now to divide out those aspects of the helix which are empirical and operational and reflect underlying theoretical elements, a greater precision is required. Thus, the structure of conflict in Figure 29.1 was composed of sociocultural distances and awareness; now, awareness is considered theoretical, and contact and communications are defined as its empirical indicators, and distances are defined as empirically reflecting opposing attitudes and relative capabilities. Changes in subsequent aspects of Figure 29.1 are similarly explained, unless otherwise noted.

9. Actual conflict may not be manifest. Here I am concerned with conflict which is felt, recognized, but yet does not display itself through behavior. I am concerned with dispositions. The operational nature of this situation regarding general and actor-specific behavioral dispositions, including conflict, and their empirical content are developed and shown in Appendix 9A.

10. Relative capabilities also appears as a theoretical element in the structure of conflict. But there it is a weak, dispositional element, at the same level of latency as the unstimulated attitudes. In the situation of conflict relative capabilities are now "on alert," strongly disposed towards gratifying stimulated interests.

11. Henceforth, I will leave the subscripts off these terms as long as they are clear in context.

12. See Sections 9A.3, 9A.4, and 9A.5 in Appendix 9A for the operational working of this product and empirical results for behavioral dispositions.

13. See Appendix 9A for the operationalization of expectations and their joint working with perceptions, behavior dispositions, and distances. Sections 9A.3, 9A.4, and 9A.5 provide empirical results for general and other specific situations.

For citations see the Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace REFERENCES

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