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Chapter 6

International Actor

By R.J. Rummel

The prism through which every nation looks at the outside world has been shaped by its own experience. For a policy-maker, there is as much truth in Eliot's "Hell is ourselves" as in Sartre's "L'enjer, c'est les autres." How the same challenge (say decolonization) is met by France or Britain tells us much more about the domestic values and political habits of each nation than about the particular external circumstances that distinguish the French from the British problem. Any study of foreign policy that sets goals which cannot be reached so long as the nation does not change its skin and its soul is of limited worth.
---- Hoffmann, 1965

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
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
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I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations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


I have shown in Chapter 5 that common dyadic behavior is a product of common expectations and behavioral dispositions--that the common behavior of, say, China's elite towards Japan is a result of their dispositions toward Japan, weighted by their expectations of the outcome of their behavior.

I could stop here in my analysis, for expectations and dispositions provide insight into behavior, are measurable,1 equations are specified (such as Equation 5.1), and predictions of behavior can be made.2 However, the analysis is not sufficiently fundamental or interesting. For while conceptually distinct, on the basis of the previous analysis we can only measure expectations and dispositions from past behavior. At the empirical level therefore, we simply have the equation that behavior begets behavior.

This clearly will not do, for a full understanding of international relations and conflict requires engaging power, ideology, perception, distance, situation, and the like. Such factors or forces must underlie expectations and dispositions; they must be brought out and their relationship to behavior clearly shown. Much unpacking must be done.

This I did at the conceptual level in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field and Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix. In Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field I argued that the dynamic psychological field has a tetradic structure: expectations, behavioral dispositions, personality, and situation. An understanding of the relationship between these aspects provide insight into a person's behavior. In Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix I focused this tetradic structure on the social behavior of one person to another, and argued that it takes place in a perceived situation and relative to the sociocultural distances (which include status and class) between actor and object: situation weights distances. And these distances reflect the personality3 differences between individuals.

Because international relations are social relations among individuals (albeit in different authoritative and individual capacities), the analysis of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix applies here. Understanding international behavior and conflict means bringing in situation and distances. But in doing so, an approach different from Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix must be taken. For there the concern was conceptual and philosophical, and social and psychological understanding. I could ignore precise distinctions, methodological problems, and express only very general equations. Measurement was not of concern, insight was.

Here, however, both understanding and measurement are involved. I have the dual purpose of explaining behavior and rigorously defining this explanation with practical equations. I am after insight and meaningful numbers.

These aims create a double burden. I must be more logically discriminating and rigorous than before, but I must tie this logic into an intuitively meaningful explanation. I have tried to do this in the previous Chapters (e.g., Chapter 5), but within the logical framework defined in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field and Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix. Now, the framework itself must be extended. To do this, I will begin by focusing on an actor's behavior in a situation as perceived uniquely by him.


The common behavior of an international actor towards another consists of threats, exports, visits, conferences, and the like. For any period of time, we can define the number of an actor's threats, visits or conferences, or the amount of exports, and so on, to another. Such is the measurement of h,ij appearing in previous equations. If h denotes threats, then h,ij means the number of common threats of i to j. That is, dyadic behavior is measured as an aggregate.

Now, this aggregate is of common expectations and dispositions, of common structures and processes of conflict. The aggregate reflects general international patterns among all actors. And this common level would suffice, if our concern were only with expectations, dispositions, and behavior.

But I am also interested in the underlying field forces--the distances. To focus on these forces toward behavior we must move down to the individual level--to that of an actor in a situation as he perceives it. For while the field forces, such as status and class distances, are common across actors, each actor will be influenced by them in his own way.4 President Carter and Chairman Brezhnev may interact in different situations, such as in reference to arms control, to human rights, or to trade. Each may see these situations differently; to each different forces (power, wealth, ideology, and so on) may be salient.

An aggregate measure of behavior will amalgamate such different situations. The total threats of an actor to another over some period, for example, may well be due to one situation or be a combination of many. For this reason we should subdivide common behavior h,ij into that specific to each situation. To wit:

Equation 6.1:

h,ij = ghg,ij ,

g = a situation;
g= the summation across situations 1,2,3, . . . , g, . . . .

That is, the common behavior of an actor i to another, such as its total threats, is an aggregate of behavior within separate situations 1,2, . . . , g, . . . , as i perceives them. And within each situation distinct common behavior hg,ij can be defined. Thus, we can consider, say, the number of threats of Brezhnev to Carter in an arms control situation distinct from those he makes in reaction to Carter's emphasis on human rights.

Now, i's behavior in a situation is subject to the same analysis as made of overall behavior. It is a composite of expectations and behavioral dispositions, except that since the situation is as i perceives it, the expectations will be specific to i as well. Thus,

Equation 6.2:

hg,ij = higwg,ij,

wg,ij = actor i's behavioral disposition toward j in situation g;
hig = i's expectation of the outcome of behavior h in situation g.

And from Equations 6.1 and 6.2,

Equation 6.3:

h,ij = ghigwg,ij

It should be clear that common expectations hk and dispositions in Equation 5.1 and hig and wg,ij in the above are not the same. Both are expectations weighting dispositions; both sum to the same common behavior. One, however, is shared expectations among actors weighting dispositions reflecting common structures of expectations and conflict processes; the other is actor specific situational expectations and dispositions.

The expectations hk shared by all actors and the situational expectations hig of an actor are not independent. Each shared expectation is a complex result of the interaction between an actor's situational expectations and dispositions.5 What is involved here is common to all societies. Each of us perceives social situations differently. Indeed, we may not even agree on what is the social situation. Nonetheless, through interaction with others (the conflict helix) we develop overarching expectations shared with others, which provide a framework for pursuing our different interests.

The rules of the road provide our everyday example. Each of us may see our automobile differently and we use it within our own perceived situations--to get to work, to shop, to display status, to conduct business, to make go to the beach. Each of us will have individual expectations and dispositions regarding our car. But on the road we all have developed shared expectations about the rules of the road--about signalling turns, stop lights, passing, and so on. These common expectations enable us to achieve our situational expectations.

Similarly, transactions involve a general structure of expectation among states, or rules, contracts, norms, and the like. However, this structure is an outcome of each actor's specific situational expectations. For the United States, for example, transactions may be the outcome of a philosophy of free trade, a general belief in cooperative interactions and the benefits of an open market. Thus, a multitude of transactions reflect the diverse decisions of private individuals and groups seeking to gratify their own interests. However, for the Soviet Union, transactions may be fully determined by the elite, who see them as a factor in the historical struggle between capitalism and socialism, and particularly, the need for Western trade to overcome Soviet economic deficiencies. Still, these different situational expectations can lead, and have for the United States and Soviet Union, to shared expectations governing transactions. Thus, one could look at actual U.S.-Soviet transactions as a result of these shared expectations and common dispositions, or as of the situational expectations and dispositions.

To summarize this Section, common, overall behavior is an aggregate of behavior in different, actor-perceived situations. And behavior in a situation is a product of situational expectations and behavioral dispositions.


What is the relationship between the dispositions common to general structures of expectations, conflict processes, and the situational disposition? Now, each actor will see the common dispositions as having a particular function or role in a situation. Thus, for Brezhnev his disposition to transact, to export, to behave negatively toward the United States will be weighted in an arms control situation by his expectations specific to the situation. That is, his overall disposition in the situation will be a result of this weighting of such common dispositions by his situational expectations. Similarly, for the United States, Carter's disposition to transact, to export, to behave negatively will be weighted in a situation by his situational expectations.

To better define this,

Equation 6.4:

wg,ij = kgikwk,ij,

wk,ij = the common dispositions of Equation 5.1;
gik = i's expectation of the outcome of behavior wk,ij in situation g.

An actor's situational disposition is a composite of his common dispositions weighted by his expectations of the outcome of these common dispositions in a particular situation.

But now we have two kinds of situational expectations. Those relating a specific behavior to situational disposition, and those relating situation to common dispositions. These can be put into one equation. From Equation 6.2 and Equation 6.4,

Equation 6.5:

hg,ij = hig(kgikwk,ij).

Then, from Equation 6.1,

Equation 6.6:

h,ij = g(kgikwk,ij).

This last equation now shows how aggregate common behavior is divided into the two kinds of situational expectations: those relating to specific behavior h and situational disposition; those relating situation and dispositions.

For example, the equation means that the number of Carter's threats to China is a result of the expectations Carter has of the outcome of threats in each situation he perceives between China and the United States (such as the Sino-Soviet conflict, the danger to South Korea from the North, the stability of Southeast Asia, the Taiwan problem in normalizing U.S.-China relations); and these expectations weight his disposition to behave towards China in a certain way in each situation. Moreover, these situational dispositions themselves result from Carter's expectation of the outcome in each situation weighting his common dispositions toward China--the common structures of expectations and conflict processes between the United States and China.


In Figures 5.3 and 5.4 of Chapter 5, I defined the behavioral variation dependent on common expectations and dispositions. The same clarity is now required here.

Equations 6.1 to 6.6 focus on the variation in the common behavior of an actor, and define this variation as dependent upon his perceived situation, as reflected in his situational expectations and dispositions. Figure 6.1 delineates this variation and its elements for an actor.

As for Figure 5.3, the variation of interest is defined in Figure 6.1 by vector notation:

hi = vector of i's common behavior h to object 1, object 2, . . . ,object j, . . .;
Wgi = vector of i's behavior dispositions in situations g towards object 1, object 2, . . . , object j, . . . ;
Wki = vector of i's common behavioral dispositions on behavior component k towards object 1 , object 2, . . . , object j, . . . .

The situational expectations hig and gik are scalar parameters.

The equation at the bottom of Figure 6.1 is the vector counterpart of scalar Equation 6.6;6 the latter defines an element, h,ij in the vector hi This should be clear from Figure 6.2, in which the dashed rectangle contains the scalar Equation 6.3, and the vertical brackets define the vectors and their elements. Figure 6.2 is another way of expressing the variation in i's behavior partitioned in Figure 6.1.

Finally, there is the question as to how the behavioral space-time of an actor fits into the overall international space-time of all actors, as pictured in Figure 5.4. Figure 6.3 illustrates that in dealing with an actor alone, I am not defining a new space-time, but only a region of the space-time of all actors. Thus, the matrix of i's common behavior, i, is a submatrix of ,7 and Ui is a submatrix. of U. However, because they are specific to i's perceived situations, the matrices Wi and i are not submatrices of W and . Indeed, the purpose of separating the region i is to define expectations i and dispositions Wi that are not common to other actors.


Table 6.1 summarizes the levels are these behavioral equations. Leaving aside the notation and equations, I have simply moved beneath the framework of expectations and dispositions common to actors to those situationally specific to an actor. This enables us to relate situations as perceived by an actor to the particular combination of forces influencing him.

I have argued that in each situation an actor perceives, he is disposed to behave towards another in a certain way. And that this situational, behavioral disposition is a combination of his common dispositions weighted by expectations of the outcomes within the situation. Moreover, I have argued that the actual common behavior of an actor towards another is a combination of the situational dispositions weighted by expectations of the behavioral outcome.8 All this is prelude to the Chapters 7, 8, and 9.


* Scanned from Chapter 6 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. See Note 9 of Chapter 5.

2. Such have been done, for example, in my Field Theory Evolving (1977: Chapter 5).

3. Personality involves temperament and personal abilities, to be sure, but also attitudes, interests, needs, sentiments, values, cognitive structures, and roles. See Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field.

4. I am here arguing for Model II of field theory (Rummel, 1977: especially Section 4.4 and Chapter 16). Model I presumes that common forces operate in the same way for all actors. Although I discarded this for Model II before empirically testing the field theory equations, some "let's see what would happen anyway" empirical assessment of Model I was done using distance vectors. The results showed no better ability to predict behavior overall than guesswork. That is, assuming actors are similarly influenced by underlying field forces (in terms of differences) provides no general ability to predict behavior. Model II is later stated as Actor Proposition 16.7 in Appendix 16.B.

When Model I is used as a framework for linking dyadic behavior to the actors' attributes and absolute or squared distances, however, some moderate relationships do appear. See, for example, Appendix I, Section 4.

5. From the previous equations and those to follow, the explicit functions can be worked out. They are complex, involving summations, products and quotients of situational expectations and dispositions Wk. I see no need to include these functions here.

6. The vector equation is written in statistical notation for clarity. Introducing vector algebra at this point would only add another layer of symbols (e.g., the vector of parameters gi) to no manipulative end.

7. Technically, the common behavioral space-time of actors is first determined through common factor analysis. Then that portion of the common space-time defining i's behavior is used in subsequent analyses of situational expectations and dispositions. This is done through employing only i's common behavior dispositions (factor scores on the components of common space-time). On these technical terms, see "Understanding Factor Analysis".

The importance of this approach is that i's common behavior is defined relative to that behavior of other actor's; i's behavior is explained within the common behavioral field. Thus, context is maintained and the results explain not only why i made more threats to object j, than to k, but also why i made more threats than, say, agreements, with object j in comparison to the behavior of other actors to j.

8. All this is consolidated into the Actor Proposition 16.7 in Appendix 16B, which the systematic evidence presented there strongly supports.

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

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