The Outcomes of Military Buildups: Minor States vs. Major Powers

Journal article

Sample, Susan G. (2002) The Outcomes of Military Buildups: Minor States vs. Major Powers, Journal of Peace Research 39 (6).

Virtually all of the empirical work concerning the general impact of mutual military buildups on the escalation of militarized disputes to war addresses the impact of these buildups on major states. Given the fact that better data are available now than when many of the first studies were conducted, the empirical question of whether the escalation of disputes between major and minor states follows similar patterns is addressed here. This also avoids the problem of our assuming that major states reflect the whole system, without systematic evidence that indicates that such an assumption is valid. The study builds upon earlier work by looking at the consequences of military buildups for all Militarized Interstate Disputes, and examines the effects for different classes of disputes (those between major states, those between minor states, and mixed disputes). The findings indicate that we cannot simply generalize from major state experiences to minor state relations: there are clear patterns of escalation, and there are definite commonalities and distinct differences in these patterns. Mutual military buildups increase the chance of escalation for both major and minor state disputes, but not for mixed disputes. Territorial disputes are much more likely to escalate than other types of disputes under virtually all circumstances. And it appears that the period after World War II is truly different from previous eras. There is no pattern of escalation among major states, and the patterns of escalation in the two other classes of disputes are substantially altered after the war. The author argues that in order to explain both similarities and differences, it is necessary to refrain from placing theoretical approaches in direct opposition to each other. Rather, we must look at the interplay between objective threat, cognitive psychology, and the impact of constructivism on both our theory and practice in politics.

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