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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
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative 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I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations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 15

Empirical Dynamics
International Conflict*

By R.J. Rummel

...the Balance of Power is a system of political dynamics that comes into play whenever a society articulates itself into a number of mutually independent local states.
---- Toynbee, A Study of History, III

International Conflict Behavior is not a spasmodic, aimless, reactive flailing of hostile leaders, bent on simply hurting or destroying each other. Violence is not necessarily stupid or irrational. War is not necessarily insane.

Conflict Behavior is usually calculated to coerce, persuade, or bargain with the other's party's will. Or to overcome it through force.

Conflict Behavior is aimed toward the gratification or protection of some interests in opposition to those of others. Such behavior manifests a balancing of powers with distinct subphases and a determinate outcome--the balance of powers.

In Conflict Behavior we should find, therefore, patterns--regularities--that mirror the underlying process. And we do, indeed.

The evidence presented in Appendix 15A confirms that Conflict Behavior manifests:

  • a preconfrontation and uncertainty phase,
  • different coercive versus noncoercive paths in the balancing of power,
  • different subphases,
  • underlying hostility,
  • reciprocity,
  • crisis.

Empirically, Conflict Behavior consists of a number of separate and distinct components--patterns underlying the phases and process of balancing. Table 15.1 summarized the patterns found by a large number of studies and indicates the typical behaviors involved in each.1

The relationship of these behavioral patterns to the underlying process of conflict is shown in Figure 15.1. The solid bars in the Figure outline the theoretical process of conflict. Moving from left to right, the latent situation of conflict is triggered into a situation of uncertainty involving preparations. This phase is transformed into the manifest balancing of powers, beginning with status quo testing. Two paths lead from this subphase, as shown by the horizontal division in the Figure. One path involves coercion, the other noncoercion. Coercion is divided into nonmilitary and military coercion, as shown. Force is a subsequent subphase, with accommodations as the final subphase in the balancing of powers. As discussed in Chapter 12 and Chapter 13, a conflict may not traverse each subphase, and may actually return to a previous subphase (see Figure 12.1 and Figure 13.6). However, for simplicity, the subphases are simply shown as sequential in Figure 15.1.

The bars in the Figure are open at each end because only part of the conflict process (that involving the situation, initiation, and balancing of powers) is shown.

Between double lines, on each side of the theoretical process, are shown the empirical components--patterns2--of international conflict listed in Table 15.1. The left-right extension of the double lines is vertically correlated to the theoretical underlying phases and subphases shown between solid bars.

The first component pattern is antiforeign behavior, the unofficial actions of individuals or groups against another state, its nationals or its property. Such reflects the hostility engendered by a conflict,3 and such manifest hostility may occur at any point in the process (as shown in Figure 15.1), even during part of the accommodations stage when some individuals or groups may be upset at leaders entering into negotiations. Moreover, hostility may bubble to the surface within a situation of conflict, when there is no overt interstate conflict.

The second component is preparations, involving mobilizing the public for possible confrontations, strengthening forces, alerts, troop movements, and the like. Such are usually concentrated during the preparations phase, but may also occur during subsequent subphases as a party prepares to escalate the conflict.

An aspect of this pattern is warning actions,4 which may occur during the testing and coercive subphases. This possibility is indicated by the subregion rectangle) delineated within the double lines in Figure 15.1. This also reflects the dual implication of preparations. They indicate a decision has been made to prepare for hostile and possible violent contingencies, but they also often are meant as a warning to the other side that a decision has been made to escalate, if necessary.

The next component is negative communications, an aspect of which involves the verbal or written threats and warnings that usually occur during the coercive subphase of a conflict. A fourth component pattern is negative actions/sanctions, which comprises retaliatory acts, physical expressions of displeasure, retortions, and so on.

Military violence consists of two components, one being low-level military violence. This may involve either the use of military means to probe the other's interests and will (e.g., an apparently spontaneous, but secretly planned border clash), or the use of military coercion. Both possibilities are shown by inner boxes in Figure 15.1. Military action, however, may neither be a test nor coercive, but simply an expression of the conflict. Thus, an aircraft of one party straying over the territory of the other may be shot down, or a surveillance ship may be boarded or sunk.

The second military component is that of intense, high-level, military violence. A war. As shown in Figure 15.1, such high-level violence may constitute either military coercion (as in the Vietnam war) or force (as in World War II).

Moving now to the cooperation components there are three.5 The first of these (C7 in the Figure) reflects bargaining power. Aid may be offered, as it was by the United States to Hanoi in the Vietnam war, and promises may be made. Moreover, both sides may implicitly agree to limits on their conflict. Sanctuaries may be allowed, weapons limited, tactics restrained, and so on. That is, a conflict may manifest a balancing through antagonistic behavior and a bargaining and "contract" over the limits of this behavior.

A second cooperative component involves persuasion: intellectual power, with authoritative and altruistic powers mixed in. Each party may clarify its position and demands, justify its case, argue that justice and the good of humanity is on its side, apply logic, cite precedent, appeal to international law, and so on.

And finally, the last component is negotiation, the actual formal or informal attempt to resolve the conflict through mutual accommodations.

Nine empirical components--empirical patterns--reflect underlying international conflict. As components, they delineate a Conflict Behavior space-time within which states can be located in terms of their relative conflict and conflict dynamics. This is a subspace of international behavior.

In summary, the process of conflict may move through phases, paths, and subphases. These usually involve the confrontation of different forms of power in the process of establishing a balance of powers, a structure of expectations.

This process is latent; it is what gives meaning and understanding to Conflict Behavior. Reflecting this process, Conflict Behavior separates into nine space-time components. These are patterns of intercorrelated behavior defining the hostility generated by a conflict, preparations for confrontation or escalation, negative communication, negative actions and sanctions, low-level military violence, intense violence, bargaining, persuasion, and negotiations.


* Scanned from Chapter 15 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. Not all studies would agree on these components, but they represent the central tendency of those listed in Table 15A.2 of Appendix 15A. Most studies have focused on the antagonistic conflict components (Cl-CS). Where conflict and cooperative data have been analyzed together they have consistently divided into separate components. Those studies including appropriate variables often find the three cooperative patterns merged into one (e.g., McClelland and Hoggard, 1969). In some a pure negotiations pattern has emerged (e.g., Kegley, et at, 1974).

2. These are components in the sense of latent-functions, as I have developed the concept in previous volumes. Pattern also is used here because each component (as a simple structure, rotated dimension of component or common factor analysis--on these technical terms, see "Understanding Factor Analysis") defines a separate and clear cluster of interrelated space-time behavior, as confirmed in Appendix 15A.

3. Contrary to popular belief, conflict usually does not develop out of public hostility. Rather it is the other way around. For example, see Buchanan and Cantril (1953).

4. Thus, empirical studies have usually labeled the pattern "Warning and defensive acts." See, for example, Hall and Rummel (1970).

5. Again, a warning. The empirical reliability of these three patterns are much less established than for the antagonistic ones, because relatively few studies have employed the proper variables.

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

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