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Chapter 12

The Balancing Of Powers*

By R.J. Rummel

Here is the place to set forth the principles of British policy towards Europe which I had followed for many years and follow still... For four hundred years the foreign policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating Power on the Continent, and particularly to prevent the Low Countries falling into the hands of such a Power.
----Churchill, 1948, 207
...the struggle for power is universal in time and space and is an undeniable fact of experience.
----Morgenthau, 1962: 68-69

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
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
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I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations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

International Conflict Behavior1 is the surface turbulence, the visible bubbles and waves caused by the underlying balancing of opposing interests, capabilities, and will. This balancing is a bargaining process which determines the real goals of participants and their strength of motivation. It measures relative military and economic power, national morale, and qualities of leadership. And above all, it gauges will.

This balancing entails three subphases, as shown in Figure 12.1. One is the status quo testing phase, through which participants assess each other's stakes in the conflict, willingness to give ground before threats or warnings, and desire to negotiate opposing interests. For example, when national leadership changes, the new prime minister or president will be tested by adversaries to determine whether and in which way his interests and will may differ from his predecessor. Thus, President Kennedy was tested by Chairman Khrushchev; President Carter by Chairman Brezhnev.

The second subphase is of the actual test of power, which may involve coercion, force, or noncoercive balancing. And finally there is the third subphase, termination, perhaps through accommodations--a negotiated end to manifest conflict--and the resulting new balance of powers.


The status quo is a central concept in understanding social interaction, including international relations. It defines the mutually perceptible distribution of rights and privileges.2 It answers the question as to who owns and can do what.

At the interstate level, the status quo is mainly defined spatially, in terms of territory and rights thereto. The geographic boundaries of a state, its sphere of control (as the Soviet Union over Eastern Europe and the United States over the Trust Territories of the Pacific) or interests (including Cuba for the Soviets and South Korea for the United States), or its rights (as the Four Power rights in Berlin). The status quo is a mutual recognition of what is "theirs." and what is "ours."

We know that East Germany is Soviet dominated, it is theirs. And they know we know this. Thus, any American attempt to aid a liberalization movement in East Germany will be seen by Soviet leaders as a premeditated attack on the U.S.-Soviet status quo. On their side, the Soviets recognize that South Korea is ours, in the sense that it is within our sphere of security interests, and we know they know this (indeed, we have through treaty commitments, the stationing of American troops in South Korea, military aid, frequent official pronouncements, tried to prevent any ambiguity on this). Thus, any attack on South Korea would be an attack on this status quo.

The territorial status quo between states defines what each is willing and able to defend; between hostile states it defines the threat of violence and war. Statesmen know what will risk war: to unilaterally try to change the territorial status quo.

The status quo is not limited to territorial-based rights, however. It includes any mutually agreed or perceived rights or limits. Thus, in the SALT I, 1972, Limitation of Antiballistic Missile Systems Treaty, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to limit antiballistic missile (ABM) deployment to two widely separated regions, one for the national capital and the other for the defense of ICBMs. In total, each agreed to deploy no more than 200 ABMs. This treaty defined a mutually perceived status quo regarding ABMs. To openly violate this status quo would cause much tension and nonviolent conflict behavior (accusations, warnings, protests, increased expenditures on arms, and so on). This potential conflict could be seen in the deep concern shown in Congress and the American defense community over alleged Soviet violations of the companion strategic arms Interim Agreement.

The status quo also includes patterns of behavior that have become mutually recognized, perhaps not explicitly, but by virtue of past accommodations, implicit acceptance, or lack of counteraction. Such may be overflights of surveillance aircraft, covert aid to rebellious groups, and political bribery by multinationals. These patterns will be predictable and mutually understood as accepted. Therefore, to change them, either one's own pattern or that of the other, can provoke a response--and conflict behavior.

We thus have three types of status quo: territorial, contractual, and behavioral. It is only attempts to change the territorial status quo by hostile states that risks violence and war. Unilateral violations of treaties, agreements (not involving territory), or changes in patterns of behavior, may provoke conflict, and raise tension, but not endanger violence unless such violations reflect on the win of the parties to protect the territorial status quo. If one party allows the other to make significant violations of a treaty or agreement, then this may suggest that the territorial status quo may be violated with impunity as well. Thus, the North Vietnamese systematically violated the 1973 Paris Agreement with the United States and knew that such were perceived as violations by American leaders. The lack of a meaningful response in conjunction with the Congressional cut in military aid to South Vietnam must have suggested that American leaders no longer had the will, desire, or capability (e.g., funds granted by Congress) to oppose further North Vietnamese attempts to militarily alter the status quo in South Vietnam. And so it was.

As described so far, the status quo is unambiguous: there is no doubt as to who is permitted what, who has what rights. But a status quo not only depends on a mutual recognition of the distribution of rights, but on the interest, capability, and will to defend them. If one side seems to show by some action that they will no longer defend the status quo or react strongly to unilateral alterations, this may trigger the will to action by the other side--the situation of uncertainty as outlined in Chapter 11. But moves to unilaterally alter the status quo based on a reading of another's change in goals, strength, and determination, is risky. Mistaken perceptions, distorted expectations, could initiate the chain of events leading to war.

Thus, the status quo testing shown in Figure 12.1. Minor incursions, small challenges to the status quo easy to deny or withdraw from, enable the risk to be gauged. A prompt and proportional counter response by the other side will communicate the interest and determination to maintain the status quo--to struggle against its alteration. A weak, much delayed, response or none at all will invite stronger tests or an attempt to finally alter that in question. Or, weak responses to attempts to alter the status quo may encourage an attack on the status quo not previously contemplated. Thus, weak responses by Kennedy to communist attempts to alter the status quo in Laos and Berlin may have given the final encouragement to Khruschev to radically alter the strategic status quo by setting up missiles and medium range bombers in Cuba in 1962.

However, a status quo may not be in place to test. That is, the actual status quo may be in question. At the level of major states, this often occurs when a power vacuum is created in some region. States formerly accepted as having rights over a territory may withdraw, as did the colonial powers from much of Africa and Asia. Moreover, a status quo may be completely altered through war, bringing to regional or global dominance new states who will have to work out among themselves and others a new status quo.

World War II thus created a power vacuum in many regions of the world. The 1946-1950 years of intense conflict between the United States and Soviet Union--the Iranian Crisis, Czechoslovakia coup, Greek civil war, Berlin Blockade, and many other crises and tests including the Soviet sponsored North Korean invasion of the South in 1950--was a shaking out period, a determination of a new territorial status quo between the United States and Soviet Union. Leaders of each were unsure of what the other defined as their rights and limits in Europe and Asia; they were unsure of the other's will. There was, in other words, no immediately obvious, mutually perceptible, status quo globally in place after World War II.

Thus, probing and testing was necessary to assess the status quo--to judge stakes, will, and capability--to fill in the power vacuum. Thus, the crisis upon crisis, challenge upon challenge of those early Cold War years.

In summary, the status quo testing subphase of the balancing of powers lessens uncertainty about opponents reactions to asserting one's interests. It helps define risk and costs. The result, as shown in Figure 12.1 will suggest one of four courses of action: coercion, force, noncoercive (nonantagonistic) conflict, and accommodations.


Coercion is the use of threats to get another to do what he otherwise would not do. The threats may be explicit, such as Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense, pointing out after the failure of the March, 1976, SALT II talks that "the United States would have to increase spending on strategic weapons by 'several billion dollars' a year if it finds the Soviet Union unwilling to settle for the kind of nuclear parity sought in the Carter administration's arms limitation proposals."3

The threat may be implicit, as in President Idi Amin's warning that: "As long as false statements continue to be broadcast by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), then the Ugandan government will bring pressure to bear on British and American citizens who are the sources of the false information."4

The threat may be verbal, written, or implied in actions underway, as in President Anwar Sadat's summer, 1976, buildup of nearly 20,000 troops, 250 tanks and 80 war planes on the Libyan border following his accusation that Libya's President Col. Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi was training terrorists to overthrow him.5

The threat may be of actions to follow, such as severance of diplomatic relations, cancellation of an agreement, boycott, military action. Or, the threat may be of a continuation of negative sanctions or deprivations until what is wanted is done, as in the Arab oil boycott of 1973. This boycott was maintained against oil dependent European nations and Japan until their foreign policies were changed to support the Arab position against Israel.

While a threat may be a specific we will do x (or stop doing x) if you do y, in the language of diplomats a threat is often indirect, given as a warning: "we will view such actions seriously . . . " "Soviet involvement would be inconsistent with détente . . .," or "if Israel does not return captured Arab territory, we will take all necessary steps. . . ."

The most serious threat among states is that of war. It appears in two ways. First, the threat may be implied purposely by actions underway, as President Sadat's above mentioned movement of military forces to the Libyan border or President Kennedy's mobilization of American forces and substantial military movements to Florida during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962; or it may be explicit as in the American treaty commitments to defend Western Europe if attacked by the Soviet Union. By word or deed, one side can intentionally communicate a threat to the other.

Second, however, the threat may be implied from previous actions, or may be implicit in current behavior. Thus, the fact that the Chinese entered the Korean War in November, 1950, at great cost to themselves when North Korea was threatened with total defeat, gave credibility to the implied threat of her intervention in the Vietnam war were South Vietnam and the United States to counterinvade the North. Thus, an intention to develop a nuclear first-strike capability against the United States explains the Soviet strategic military buildup in the 1970s.6 Such are not threats made intentionally by one to another in a specific conflict. They comprise one's expectations or perceptions of the other.

For example, the October 2, 1950, communication of Chou En-lai to Washington, through the Indian Ambassador K.M. Parmikar, that China would enter the war if American troops crossed the 38th Parallel, was a threat.7 The possibility of China also entering the Vietnam war if the North were invaded was, however, an expectation. The two must be kept distinct, for the first constitutes conflict behavior (the threat to ... ); the second defines the credibility of certain behavior. Threat as behavior and threat as credibility serve different functions: one communicates intention, the other comprises the faith we can have in another's behavior.

Overall, then, the coercive subphase in the balancing of power is manifested in three possible ways: through verbal or written threats (and warnings), through threatening actions, or through applying deprivations or violence (with the threat to continue them unless x is done).

12.3 FORCE

Coercion acts on the will. Force acts on the will's means: its body, capabilities, or resources. Coercion is psychological; force is physical. When the will cannot be coerced, force is the ultimate recourse, as illustrated in Figure 12.1.

From this, however, we cannot conclude that violence and war only result from the failure of coercion. The reason is that coercion itself may embody violence and war. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon fought the Vietnam war as a test of will against North Vietnamese leaders. Military violence was employed to prevent the success of Hanoi's forces in the South while, for Johnson and Nixon, also threatening to destroy these forces and Hanoi's military-economic capacity in the North. The American aim was to coerce North Vietnam's leaders into accepting a sovereign and independent South Vietnam, or at a minimum ending their aggression against the South.

In Korea in 1950, however, General MacArthur crossed the 38th Parallel with his divisions in pursuit of the retreating North Korean armies, not to coerce their will, but to totally and militarily defeat them--that is, to remove any choice except unconditional surrender. However, once the Chinese armies entered the war and forced a retreat of our divisions from much of North Korea, the character of the war changed. It became a coercive and bloody test of wills on both sides.

The Japanese militarily attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to destroy the American Pacific fleet and coerce the American government into accepting a new Japanese order in Asia and the Pacific. They realized they could not destroy the United States militarily and the American capacity to rebuild her Pacific fleet, but believed they could work on a perceived weakness of will. A negotiated settlement granting a much expanded Japanese sphere of influence in Asia was their aim. The bad timing of their declaration of war, which unintentionally was delivered shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, and the widely perceived immorality of "this stab in the back", galvanized American war sentiment and made limited war aims impossible. The Japanese fought a war of coercion; the United States fought from the beginning a War of force: to so destroy Japanese military and economic power that unconditional surrender was the only option.

Therefore, in spite of war's great physical destruction and loss of lives; its profound physical commitment of a nation's spirit, people and resources; and its awesome geographic, mechanical, and technological dimensions; wars often are a psychological manifestation, a test of will.

But, as noted, wars have also been fought as a test of might: not to coerce opponents into accepting certain conditions, but to physically deny their wills any other choice but complete surrender. Thus, Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 to crush her militarily and rule her politically. This was not a test of will, but of might. Thus, the Allies invaded Germany in 1944 to totally defeat Hitler. Thus, the armies of Mao Tse-tung fought the last stages of the Chinese civil war against Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops for total victory; thus, Kim Il-sung's North Korean Army invaded the South in 1950; thus, the North Vietnamese launched their largest and finally successful offensive against South Vietnam in 1975.

That war is a continuation of politics by other means is the classic observation of Karl von Clausewitz (1943). By this he means that political policy dominates the pursuit of war and its strategy, that war is part of the political bargaining between states. War is not strictly military (the art and science of force), but involves political issues and requires political decisions be made along with those purely military. It melds the art of coercion and science of force. The choice of an invasion route, the use of a weapon (as the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), or the supplying of an ally, will involve military factors to be sure, but also can have political consequences for the subsequent peace. In my terms, war is part of the balancing of interests, wills, and capabilities from which a structure of expectations--a new order--emerges.

But this is not to say that war of coercion is political and a war of force is purely military. Political policies can dominate both types of war. The military means selected in a war of force can be determined on both political and military grounds. To defeat another's will, to destroy him or leave him no option but surrender, can be done without turning the conduct of the war entirely over to the generals and admirals. The allied war aims in World War II against Hitler did not necessitate an invasion of France at Normandy, instead of an invasion up through the "soft underbelly of Europe"--through Greece and into Eastern Europe, thus possibly saving a number of Eastern European countries from postwar, Soviet domination.

My classification of wars into those of coercion and of force is not along a political versus military dimension, but rather along a dimension of power. At one end is the war of coercion, such as President Johnson fought against North Vietnam; at the other end is the war of force, such as that fought by Presidents Roosevelt and Truman against Germany and Japan.

The threat of war may lead to a war of coercion or of force, if the threat is called. Or a war of coercion may turn into one of force, as did the Vietnam war. Until American forces were withdrawn, the war for the North Vietnamese was a test of U.S. will; afterwards, it became a conventional war of force against the South.

In any case, a war of force may escalate from the use of coercion. If the will cannot be deterred or violently persuaded, physical force is the last resort and ultimate challenge.

Although in contrasting coercion to force I have emphasized the role of violence and war in coercion, violence is the extremity of coercion usually applied only after a range of nonviolent threats and deprivations have been employed. Coercion is present if some means are being used intentionally to pressure another into action they would not otherwise take. Coercion may be thus manifested by boycotts, embargoes, freezing another's assets, expelling ambassadors, and so on. The key to coercion is the intentionally stated or implied threat of more or worse to follow unless the other side does X.


Power comes in many forms, (Chapter 21 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix). The same behavior may, depending on an actor's intention, manifest different powers. A higher tariff on goods from another state may be to coerce the other into lowering their tariff or it may be the expression of legal reciprocity and thus of authoritative power. A diplomatic protest over a hostile public demonstration and attack on one's embassy may carry a warning of possible retaliation unless a form of apology is forthcoming and the leaders of the attack are punished. This is coercion. Or a protest may be an expression of legal right, as in a dispute over commercial rights, and thus be an instrument of authoritative power; or it may be a carefully researched and reasoned review of the background and factors in a dispute and the strength of one's position, and thus relying on intellectual power.

National elites have a great variety of means--of actions--to manifest their interests in opposition to another state, some of which I have already discussed. They can, of course, make war. But they can also boycott, embargo, or blockade another; support terrorism against the other, provoke border clashes or engage in limited military action. They can, verbally or in writing, formally or informally, threaten, warn, protest, represent, accuse, denounce, or issue an ultimatum. They can mobilize, move their forces, cancel leaves, alert their troops, maneuver, or strengthen forces, all as preparation for contingencies or to threaten or warn another. Leaders can show the flag, display the fleet, overfly fighters or bombers, or cause a few sonic booms over another's capital. They can sever or suspend diplomatic or economic relations, expel diplomats or the other's nationals, and restrict the internal movement and actions of diplomats. They can rebuff or snub the other diplomatically, discontinue giving or reject aid, abrogate treaties or commitments, freeze assets, seize another's property, or impose high tariffs. They can walk out of a conference, cancel a state visit, try to take the other state to the International Court of Justice, invoke international action against it through international organizations, or have it expelled from certain organizations. They can form defensive or hostile alliances, aid the other's enemies, give aid and training to subversive or rebellious groups, propagandize its people, disseminate false information, spy and subvert, and sabotage. Or they can unofficially organize public outcry and demonstrations against the other; attacks on its property, citizens and embassy; cross-border "tribal" attacks or "banditry," or private boycotts. Clearly. The means are many and this short list could be lengthened many times.8

Conflict behavior, however, is not necessarily hostile or antagonistic. It may be what is ordinarily considered helpful, cooperative, or solidary. Elites not only threaten, deprive, sanction, retort, or retaliate, but also bargain, trade, cooperate, or aid another or exchange with them as part of the balancing. Presidents Johnson and Nixon used the stick and carrot approach to Vietnam, offering postwar rehabilitation aid if Vietnam would negotiate a satisfactory end to the war. The Nixon-Kissinger policy of détente stressed jointly the use of American power to deter Soviet aggression and the use of trade, aid, and cooperative agreements to give them a stake in a relaxation of tensions.

How are all these overtly antagonistic or cooperative means to be classified? What scheme can we impose on them to bring out their inherent logic and meaning? I have searched the literature on international relations without finding any extensive definitions, classifications, and analysis of the variety of conflict related, international actions. Introductory texts are too general, books on international politics focus on violence and the threat of war, and works on international law concern conflictful actions only as they exemplify the legal basis of such behavior.9 The "list" of actions mentioned previously were developed empirically as I recorded daily all conflict actions reported in The New York Times from 1963 to 1968.

One approach to such actions is to organize them in terms of their latent functions--their inherent patterns of occurrence. This was the my empirical approach in research on foreign conflict, the results of which are given in Table 11.2. While this approach provides a significant classification and understanding of the covariation in conflict behavior to be discussed in more detail in Chapter 15, it does not provide meaning and insight. For that, we must again go beneath the surface, not probabilistically to define components this time, but to uncover the logic of such behavior.

And the logic is that of power. I have dealt with the literature of power in Chapters 19, 20, and 21 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix, and the essence and forms of power. My conclusion was that power is the capacity-to-produce-effects. It takes different forms depending on whether it is intentionally directed, directed to another self, its basis (such as legitimacy or credibility), and its means (such as threats or promises). Thus, I discriminated identive, assertive, and physical power; the social forms of power, which are coercive, bargaining, intellectual, authoritative, altruistic, and manipulative powers; and the physical form of power--force--oriented to overcome, rather than change, another's will.

The balancing of powers phase shown in Figure 12.1 manifests the confrontation of these diverse forms of power. Except for force, all actions are oriented towards another's psychological field. They derive their meaning, not from their physical quality--the empirical nature of the action--but from their intention. For this reason the same physical action, such as a formal diplomatic protest, can be meant as a threat (coercive power), as a legally justified request (authoritative power), as a persuasive argument (intellectual power), to trap the other into accepting one's definition of the situation (manipulative power), or as an appeal to universal morality (altruistic power). It is the psychological intent of an actor's action towards another, the form of power it reflects, that defines the underlying logic of the balancing of powers phase between them.

Historians and political scientists have focused great attention on the balancing of power. War, the threat of war, revolutions, rebellions, and other forms of social violence have been the focus of innumerable scholarly and literary works. My argument here is straightforward. These phenomena, showing the full range of human barbarism, cruelty, courage, cowardice, love, and hate reflect a process of conflict, most of which is an unseen balancing of interests, capabilities, and wills.10


Except when naked force is used to utterly defeat another's will, conflict and cooperative interaction in the balancing process are an implicit negotiation and adjustment between the parties. Mutual interests (goals, desires, stakes) are judged. Diverse capabilities (skills, qualities, resources, leadership, armament) are proved. And wills (resolution, determination, courage, grit) are tested. This implicit negotiation may become explicit. Diplomatic negotiations may take place, third parties may intervene to mediate, international organizations may become involved and intervene, the conflict may be adjudicated before the International Court of Justice.11

In any case through implicit and explicit negotiations, compromises between the desires of both sides may be struck or awards may be determined for one side or the other to settle the conflict. In other words, accommodations between the parties have been determined, as shown in Figure 12.1; a new treaty, contract, agreement, or understanding may be signed to define a new balance of powers.

Negotiations may achieve no formal accommodations, however. The outcome of the balancing of power may be conquest, the complete victory over and mastery of the other. At the state level this may involve the disappearance of the other state and absorption of its people and territory by the winner, as happened in the Soviet Union's conquest of Lithuania in 1939 or North Vietnam's conquest of the South in 1975. The outcome may be the submission of one side to the other, as in Japan's and Germany surrender in 1945, or it may involve the withdrawal of one party to the conflict, as for the Angola-based Kantagan rebels who retreated from their invasion of Zaire in 1977.

Or there may be no clear termination. The conflict may drag on with alternating hot and cold periods, or just die away without any clear win or loss or accommodations--an uneasy acceptance of the status quo antebellum.12 For example, Burma remains riven by decades old guerrilla and civil warfare; the violent conflict between mainland China and Taiwan remains frozen, as of 1978; the overarching conflict between Arabs and Jews initiated with the creation of Israel in 1948 remains generally unsettled, although it has burst fourth in the four Middle Eastern wars of 1948, 1956, 1968, and 1973; and the Korean conflict is frozen as well, with an uneasy negotiated armistice of the 1950-1953 hot war in place.

Both the Middle Eastern and Korean conflicts exemplify the narrowness of focusing on a specific war as constituting a conflict. The particular issues involved (which for the Middle East as of 1977 concern the existence, borders, and rights of the state of Israel in an Arab region; and for Korea concerns the unification of a communist North Korea and authoritarian, anticommunist, South) may not be settled by a war. The war may end in a stand-off or a tactical victory for one side which may increase its advantage or leverage, but not decisively settle the basic dispute. Its outcome may be a temporary balance of powers--a tactical pause--within the overall and continuing balancing of powers.

The continuing Middle East conflict--the four wars, the interwar feints and probes, military actions and clashes, accusations and threats, terrorism, and regional arms races exemplify this underlying balancing which may occasionally reach great heights of violence, but do not resolve the underlying major issues, the situation of conflict.

Such durable conflicts simply point out the nested and overlapping nature of balances of powers. Conflict and war may take place within an overarching and stable balance of powers; the balancing may concern lower order interests. As a case in point, one aspect of the Vietnam War was a regional balancing of powers between American and Soviet leaders. American military forces fought the regular North Vietnamese Army and its auxiliary guerrilla Vietcong, both mainly supplied with weapons by the Soviets; some of the SAM batteries that shot down American planes over North Vietnam may have been manned by Soviet "technicians," some of whom may have been killed when such batteries were bombed. Yet, this local confrontation took place under an umbrella, global Soviet-American balance of powers, manifested in a variety of cooperative activities and agreements. On the other hand, conflict behavior and war may take place as phases or aspects of a larger, continuing balancing of powers, as already discussed with regard to the Middle East. The violence may be terminated. But the underlying situation of conflict continues.

To summarize, the termination of conflict behavior may be through accommodations, conquest, submission or withdrawal, or such behavior may die away. In any case, the outcome of the process, as shown in Figure 12.1 is a balance of powers. This is a locking together in a formal or informal, explicit or implicit, equilibrium of the interests, capabilities, and wills of the parties. This balance may be short-lived or durable. It may be of wide scope covering diverse interests, or it may be narrow, involving one interest (e.g., a nationalization of foreign property). It may be intense, involving the fundamental values and norms of participants (as that concluding a world war), or it may concern peripheral values and norms (as the settlement of a minor issue raised in a protest note).

Regardless. The balance creates and undergirds a new structure of expectations, a momentary order in some of the relations between the parties.


The dynamics of conflict behavior is summarized in Figure 12.1. About this dynamics, this balancing of powers, note the following.

  • Conflict behavior reflects a process toward establishing a balance of powers and itself has internal dynamics.

  • The results of status quo testing may lead to a coercive or noncoercive confrontation or termination of the conflict, depending on what the testing reveals about another's interests, capabilities, and will.

  • Once a confrontation occurs, all paths lead primarily13 to accommodations, except when the conflict escalates to force.

  • There is an alternative path to coercion in a conflict, which may involve the use of bargaining (exchange), intellectual, authoritative,14 and other noncoercive powers. Therefore, some manifest behavior in the balancing of powers may be, what is generally termed, cooperative (e.g., offers of aid, promises, implicit acceptance of rules governing the scope and limits of conflict behavior).

  • Coercion has a nonmilitary and military aspect.

  • Force is a noncoercive (an attempt to bypass or destroy the other's will) form of military coercion.

  • Unless the other as an actor is destroyed (as in an invasion, takeover, and absorption of another) all paths lead to a new balance of powers, a new equilibrium of interests, capabilities, and wills, supporting a new structure of expectations.


* Scanned from Chapter 12 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. Conflict Behavior, capitalized, refers to the whole balancing of powers phase; conflict behavior, lower-cased, connotes the antagonistic balancing within this phase. See Section 4.6.

2. My definition of the status quo is the same as Payne's (1970), whose treatment of the threat of war, the role of the status quo, the nature of bargaining through conflict, the importance of risk and uncertainty, and the statesman's calculus (gains minus costs minus risks) is close to my own. Indeed, his book with its many historical examples, shows the implicit operation of a conflict helix between hostile states, and could well be supplementary reading for this Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace.

3. Baltimore Sun, April 2, 1977, p. 2. The Carter administration later retreated from its own proposals, thus negating its threat and slicing away a piece of its credibility.

4. Honolulu Star Bulletin, March 14, 1977, p. A-7 (AP)

5. Newsweek, September 13, 1976, p. 69. This buildup eventuated in the Egyptian-Libyan border war almost a year later.

6. I am not saying that the intent is to launch a first strike, but to develop the capability as a threat to back up political demands or initiatives and, in case it is needed, to preempt a "last gasp attack by dying capitalism." See my 'Will the Soviet Union Soon Have a First-Strike Capability?" (1976c).

7. Halle (1967: 222).

8. Most of the actions mentioned were part of my foreign conflict coding sheet (Rummel, 1966). For many years I personally collected daily foreign conflict data on all states, which I then aggregated and factor analyzed to delineate such components of foreign conflict as shown in Table 11.2. See, for example, (Rummel 1967a, 1968). Appendix II provides an overview of such "event data" coding and analysis. On factor analysis, see "Understanding Factor Analysis."

9. Thus, international law defines such conflict behavior as international delicts (violations of international law), sanctions (obligations to right the wrong done by a delict), reprisal (a particular sanction legally permitted against a delict) and retortion (a legal act to repair injury done by a legal act of another-i.e., a nondelict).

10. By will here, I mean the actor's will to make and follow through on his threats or promises. This is from the actor's perspective. From the perspective of the object or an observer, this will define the actor's credibility.

11. For a discussion and analysis of the outcomes of conflict I will consider here, see K.J. Holsti (1966) and Hannah (1968, 1972). On the termination of conflict generally, see Coser (1961). Specifically on the termination of war, see Carroll (1969, 1970); lkle (1971); Kahn, et al, (1968); Klingberg (1966); Phillipson (1916); Randle (1972); and Weiss (1961). K.J.Holsti (1977) has a useful overview of concepts and findings on conflict resolution. Systematic studies on war and conflict termination are relatively rare compared to those on the causes and nature of war, as could be seen by comparing the evidence available for the causes and conditions of conflict (Table 16C.3) and for its ending (Table 17A.3).

12. See Etzioni (1964).

13. "Primary" is used in the sense of what usually occurs. For example, force may be unsuccessful and therefore either deescalated to military coercion or negotiations may ensue. However, in many applications of force the outcome is termination without negotiations and accommodations.

14. The use of authoritative power, for example, would be an attempt of one party to have a conflict placed on the Agenda of the Security Council in the hope that the UN would intervene in its behalf.

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

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