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Integrating Realist and Neoliberal Theories of War

Daniel S. Geller EMAIL logo and Konstantinos Travlos


The requirements for global security and international stability vary according to the perspective brought to bear on the subject. Indeed, the structural realist and neoliberal paradigms present markedly different views on the sources of war and prescriptions for peace. Structural realism focuses on system-level capability distributions, alliances, and dyadic power balances as factors associated with the onset of war. Neoliberalism emphasizes the importance of international institutions, democracy, and economic interdependence in maintaining global security. This study develops an integrated model of war and peace based on system-level factors drawn from both paradigms and utilizes a new database reflecting the level of major power policy coordination. The findings for the period of 1816–2007 indicate that interaction effects of these realist and neoliberal variables complement their relationships with global patterns of interstate conflict. The basic conclusion to be drawn is that both concentrated power and managerial cooperation at the apex of the international system are required to produce a more peaceful world.

Appendix A

Table 5:

Summary statistics for independent variables used in the models.

Independent variableTypeMax-min valueMedian/meanSources
Scale of Major Power Managerial Coordination Intensity (MPMCI) (adjusted by adding 2)Ordinal Index0.5–41.5/NATravlos, 2016
Polarity: Number of Major PowersCount, Discrete4–86/NACorrelates of War Majors list [v.2011]
Hierarchy: Percentage of the aggregate capabilities of all major powers possessed by the leading major power in a system-yearInterval Ration, Continuous 24.04925–60.203237.41024/37.55037Composite Index of National Capabilities [CINC] Correlates of War project data v4.0. Formula from Geller & Singer, 1998
Concentration of Material Capabilities: the standard deviation of the percentage shares of the aggregate capabilities of all major powers divided by the maximum possible standard deviation in a system of that sizeInterval Ratio, Continuous 0.059–0.850.51/0.50Composite Index of National Capabilities [CINC] Correlates of War project data v4.0. Correlates of War Majors list [v.2011] Correlates of War System Membership (v.2011) Formula from Ray & Singer, 1973
Figure 7: Distribution of discrete independent variables in 1816–2007 period.
Figure 7:

Distribution of discrete independent variables in 1816–2007 period.

Figure 8: Distribution of continuous independent variables in 1816–2007 period.
Figure 8:

Distribution of continuous independent variables in 1816–2007 period.

Appendix B

Creating the Scale of Major Power Managerial Coordination Intensity (Travlos, 2016)

This measurement instrument captures whether major power interaction is characterized by policies of conflict or by attempts at managerial coordination for facilitating cooperation. It does so by capturing whether the majority of major powers are engaged in consultation, multilateralism, and the avoidance of adversarial coordination, and must capture the intensity of that engagement. Intensity refers to the degree to which the major powers are engaged in the three elements of managerial coordination. The more elements they are engaged in contemporaneously, the more intense their managerial coordination.

First, each element of managerial coordination must be operationalized. Consultation is defined operationally as the shared membership of an overwhelming majority of major powers in intergovernmental organizations that have a security mandate, such as the United Nations, or in large congresses that try to resolve issues and create informal regimes and norms, such as the 19th century Berlin Congresses.[1] Membership in such regimes is a clear behavioral indicator that the major powers prefer consultation to unilateralism as the basic systemic principle for resolving conflicts. The justification for this is found in Randle (1987). Large multilateral major power congresses form the cooperative mechanisms of the international system as they set the norms that will guide issue management in the present and future. Membership in a congress or institution is also membership in the regimes created or crystallized by that congress or institution.

Multilateralism is defined operationally by the shared membership of an overwhelming majority of major powers in alliances that do not target a non-member major power. Examples of such alliances are the Quadruple Alliance of the Vienna Congress system after France became a de-facto member.[2] The existence of such major power alliances creates a signal of major power managerial coordination to other states, as well as a ready forum for major power multilateral action.

Membership in such an alliance is a powerful indicator of the preference of major powers not only for consultation, but also for coordinated action in resolving conflicts. This is because inclusive major power alliances tend to be hard to create, and are costly in terms of foreign policy freedom. Major power allies are not as easily ignored as minor power allies.[3] If the goal is consultation, looser and less restrictive alternative regimes exist. Consequently, the existence of this regime indicates major power intent to act multilaterally.

The presence of the negative element of adversarial coordination is operationalized for the period before 1945 by the existence in the system of any alliance between two or more major powers that officially by treaty provisions targets a non-member major power. Such adversarial alliances are clear indicators of enmity, a preference for unilateralism, and a penchant for resolving conflicts through coercion. Examples of adversarial alliances were the major power alliances that fought World War I.[4] It thus codes the failure of the major powers to avoid adversarial coordination.

The post-1945 norm of the illegality of Offensive Alliances precludes the use of major power adversarial alliances as an operational definition of adversarial coordination after 1945. As a testament of the strength of this norm, such alliances have not existed since 1945. Defensive alliances exist, but also eschew overt adversarial clauses. Consequently an alternative operational variable is needed after 1945. This alternative is Linked Strategic Rivalries (Colaresi et al., 2008). Strategic Rivalry is a condition in which two states exhibit rhetoric and policy activity that indicates that they see each other as a threat. It is a weaker identifier of enmity than adversarial alliances since strategic rivals are not averse to cooperating (e.g. France and the UK during the 18th and 19th century). However, the measure still entails open declaration of enmity. Another benefit is that since use of force is not used for the operationalization of the concept, it can be used to predict use of force.

The problem is that strategic rivalry can last for a very long time, including multiple centuries. Not all those periods are characterized by heightened enmity. What is needed is a stronger form of adversarial coordination as expressed by strategic rivalries. The answer is “linked rivalries.” In these cases, two states that have the same strategic rival link their rivalries by an alliance. While there may be no overt and open declarations of hostility, the coordination of the policies of the two states is more likely to be considered adversarial by their common rival. Consequently, after 1945, Major Power Linked Strategic Rivalry is employed as the operationalization for adversarial coordination.

It is assumed that each of the cooperative elements, multilateralism and consultation, is equal in its effect. From the theoretical discussion it is argued that these two elements, operationalized as major power managerial alliances and major power joint membership in intergovernmental organizations, are also complementary. This happens both in the sense that the signals of major power managerial coordination are amplified, as well as in the proliferation of credible alternatives to military force. Such alternatives are noted as important for the decrease of the use of force in international relations (Vasquez, 1993). On the other hand, it is assumed that the presence of an adversarial alliance in the system has a strong conflict-inducing effect, one that is stronger than the peace inducing effect of each cooperative element by itself.

To create a scale of major power coordination intensity every system-year is coded for the presence of each of the elements of managerial coordination. The presence of consultation or multilateralism is coded as 1. The presence of adversarial alliances is coded as −1.5. The quantity of −1.5 is selected for the adversarial element because the presence of an adversarial alliance among major powers will negate any pacific influence of a single cooperative element (e.g. the UN Security Council in the Cold War) but will not overwhelm the presence of both (e.g. the period 1880–1910 in Europe).

The values of these three variables for each system-year are then added together. Thus the value of major power managerial coordination intensity in each system-year is the result of the following function:


where Ψi is the value of the scale of major power managerial coordination for year i, Xi the value of consultation in year i, Yi the value of multilateralism in year i, and Zi the value of failure to avoid adversarial coordination in year i. The first two parameters are always positive or zero (0). The third is always negative or zero (0). The combination of the three variables creates a scale of six categories that correspond to six possible values of the above function. Categories with higher values represent more intense major power managerial coordination. The combinations are tabulated in Table 6. To facilitate statistical work, the quantity 2 is added to Ψi so that the scale has a minimum of 0.5 and a maximum of 4. Each numerical category is also given a name, and an exemplary case.

Table 6:

Scale of major power managerial coordination intensity (MPMCI).

Intensity of coordination category nameIntensity of coordination category value (linear adjustment)Managerial alliance (multilateralism)Shared membership in international pacific institutions and regimes (Consultation)Adversarial alliances (adversarial coordination)Example
“Universalist Regime”2 (4)=1+1+0Early Vienna Congress 1816–1822
“Managerial Regulation” 1(3)= 1 + 0+0Later Vienna Congress 1841–1853
1(3)= 0+1+0
“Bounded Regulation” 0.5 (2.5)= 1+1 +−1.5Contemporary Period 1995+
“Regulatory Indifference” 0 (2)= 0+0+0League of Nations 1922–1934
“Particularistic Regulation”−0.5 (1.5)= 1+0+−1.5Detente Cold War Period 1971–1989
“Adversarial Particularism”−1.5 (0.5)= 0+0+−1.5Main Cold War Period 1950–1970

The category represented by the highest value of 2, is named “Universalist Regime” in reference to Wallensteen’s pioneering work. It represents the situation in which the major powers are engaged in all three elements of managerial coordination, thereby establishing a regime. The exemplary case is the early Vienna System between 1816 and 1822.

The category represented by value 1 of the scale is named “Managerial Regulation.” During such periods that major powers are engaged in either consultation or multilateralism, but not in both. However, they still avoid adversarial alliances. The exemplary case is the Later Vienna System between 1841 and 1853. During this period the alliance system that underpinned the Congress system had atrophied, but the powers were still engaged in regular consultation.

The category represented by value 0.5 is labeled “Bounded Regulation.” It represents periods when the major powers are engaged in both cooperative elements of managerial coordination but have also failed to avoid adversarial alliances or linked strategic rivalries. Thus the regulation of the international system is bounded by the particularistic interests of the major powers. The post-1995 period is an example of this. The alliance between Russia and China has linked their rivalries with the USA, and cast a shadow over the functioning of the international regimes within which the three powers share membership.

The category with value zero (0) is labeled “Regulatory Indifference.” This period is one in which the major powers are not engaged in adversarial alliances, but also are not collectively engaged in the cooperative elements of managerial coordination. This does not preclude a small number of major powers trying regulate the system, but such attempts are those of a minority. The League of Nations period is the anchor case. The non-membership of the Soviet Union and the US during most of the era, and then the exit of Japan and Germany severely constrained the regulatory potential of the regime.

The category with value −0.5 is labeled “Particularistic Regulation.” In these periods, the major powers are engaged in one of the two cooperative elements of managerial coordination, but also have failed to avoid adversarial alliances. This usually means that any attempts at using regulatory mechanisms are in the pursuit of the particularistic goals of the major powers instead of the decrease of international conflict. It is a period of cooperation among adversaries. The Détente period of the Cold War is the exemplar case.

The category with the value of −1.5 is labeled “Adversarial Particularism,” once more in reference to Wallensteen. In such periods, the major powers are exclusively engaged in adversarial coordination. There is no attempt at managerial coordination. The early cold war period between 1950 and 1971 is an example of this, dominated by linked strategic rivalries and by the exclusion of the Peoples Republic of China from the United Nations.

The Intensity of managerial coordination is coded for each system-year between 1715 and 2010. Extant data is applied in order to code the various elements of the coordination instrument. Major power status for the 1816–2010 period is taken from the Correlates of War Major Power dataset (COW Major 2011).[5] For the 1715–1815 period, Gibler’s Gibler (1999)[6] list of major powers is utilized.

For the 1816–2010 period, the information from the major power datasets was then combined with the Alliance Participant dataset of the Alliance Treaty Obligations Provision project (ATOP.3), to help locate major power managerial alliances and major power adversarial alliances. From this data, all alliances are extracted that had at least one major power member (332 of 648 alliances for 1816–2010). Using ATOP documentation, all major power adversarial alliances (alliances between two or more major powers that target non-member major powers in treaty obligations) are identified. There are 23 such alliances in the 1816–2010 period.[7] Major power managerial alliances (alliances in which the overwhelming majority of major powers were members and which did not by treaty provisions target a non-member major power) are also identified. There are 8 such alliances in the 1816–2010 period.[8] The remaining 286 alliances had either only one major power member, did not explicitly target a non-member major power, or was made up of a minority of major powers.

In the 1715–1815 period major power managerial and adversarial alliances were coded using the data and documentation provided by Gibler (1999, 2009). Of 90 alliances in total, 85 had at least one major power member. In this period there were 12 adversarial alliances and zero (0) managerial alliances.[9]

Major power adversarial alliances are used to operationalize adversarial coordination for the period before 1945. After 1945, Major Power Linked Strategic Rivalries are used for the measure. To create that variable, all major power strategic rivalries after 1945 (Colaresi et al., 2008) were located. There were 7 Major Power Strategic Rivalries. These are the Anglo-Russian Rivalry (1778–1956), the Soviet-United States Rivalry (1945–1989), the Cold War Chinese-US rivalry (1949–1972), the Cold War Chinese-Soviet Rivalry (1958–1989), and the post-Cold War Japan-China (1996–2011), China-Untied States (1996–2011) and Russian-United States (2007–2011) rivalries.

Data from the Alliance Treaty Obligations and Provisions project was then used to locate major power alliances that link major powers who have the same rival after 1945. There are 15 potential alliances in the post-1945 period.[10] Bringing the two sets of information together there are the following Major Power Linked Strategic Rivalries:

  1. 1949–1950, Alliance 3030 (USSR-China) links the Soviet Union-US (1945–1989) and Cold War China-US Rivalries (1949–1972).

  2. 1950–1972(1980), Alliance 3200 (USSR-China) links the Soviet Union-US (1945–1989) and Cold War China-US Rivalries (1949–1972).

  3. (1960)1996–2011, Alliance 3375 (USA-Japan) links the post-Cold War Japan-China (1996–2011), and China-Untied States (1996–2011) rivalries.

  4. 1949–1956 (1989), Alliance 3180 (NATO, US-UK) links the Cold War Anglo-Soviet (1945–1956) and US-Soviet (1945–1989) Rivalries

  5. 1962–1964, Alliance 3460 (China-US) links Cold War Chinese-Soviet (1958–1989) and US-Soviet Rivalries (1945–1989)

From the above list it can be seen that at least one Major Power Linked Strategic Rivalry existed in the periods 1949–1972 and 1996–2011.

To operationalize consultation, shared major power membership in intergovernmental pacific or security institutions is applied. This was coded using data from the Multilateral Treaties of Pacific Settlement (MTOP) dataset v1.4 created by Paul Hensel (2001, 2005).[11] Because of the stipulations in the explanatory section, only those intergovernmental institutions that have a security mandate and have acted on that security mandate are included. This is because major power membership in intergovernmental institutions that have no mandate on political-security issues do not give any signal about major power de-jure adherence to pacific managerial norms and regimes. Membership in inactive institutions also provides no signal, since membership is not costly.

Active institutions are identified using the lists of active institutions in the studies by Hansen, Mitchell, and Nemeth (2008) and Bercovitch and Schneider (2000). This produces a list of 20 active peace institutions in the system in the 1816–2008 periods, which can be found in Table 7. Shared major power membership in each institution using MTOP was then determined. A review of the literature does not suggest that the character of these regimes changed in the 2008–2010 period.

Table 7:

Active International Peace Organizations 1816–2008.

United Nations1946–present
European Union 1958–present
League of Nations1920–1946
Central Commission of Navigation on the Rhine1815–present
Organization of African Unity (African Union)1963–present
Arab League1945–present
Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ)1922–1946
International Court of Justice1946–present
Permanent Court of Arbitration 1899–present
Inter-American Conference on Conciliation and Arbitration1929–present
Central American Court of Justice1907–1918
ODED (Organization for Democracy and Economic Development2001–present
Baltic Assembly1994–present
Commonwealth and Judicial Council of the Imperial Privy Council1931–present
NATO (only from 1990)1949–present
Islamic Conference Organization (ICO)1973–present
Arab Maghreb Union1989–present
Organization of American States (OAS)1951–present

Beyond membership in intergovernmental institutions, major powers can also signal an adherence to common regimes by taking part in large international congresses and peace treaties (e.g. Westphalia in 1648). A major power is considered a member of such an informal institution if it took part in its inaugurating meeting, or in subsequent meetings and for a 10-year period after the last meeting. This membership criterion is based on Randle’s argument that the membership in peace treaties or international congresses also creates membership in the constitution of regimes created by the treaty (Randle, 1987, pp. 32, 35, 59–61). The 10-year rule accounts for the weakening of regimes that lack institutionalized form due to the passage of time. There were no such IGOs in the 1715–1815 period.

The treaties and congresses that meet the above requirements are presented in Table 8. Membership information for the Congress of Europe, London Conference, and Berlin system is extracted from the Encyclopedia Britannica 15th edition (1985) and Langer’s The Encyclopedia of World History 5th edition Langer (1972). Membership of the Hague System was compiled from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (, and MTOP. Information about the membership of the Pan-American Meetings and the Congress of Panama was compiled from OAS ( These congresses are the main regulatory congresses of the 1715–2010 period which additionally engendered a system of periodic meetings. In order to err on the side of completeness, even congresses that had no major power members were included in the set.

Table 8:

Informal Peace and Institutions and Congresses 1715–2010.

InstitutionPeriod of activity (in parentheses last meeting)
The Congress of Europe1815–1858 (1848)
The Congress of Panama1826–1836 (1826)
Pan-American Meetings1847–1874 (1864)
The London Conference1867–1877 (1867)
The Berlin System1878–1894 (1884)
The Hague System1899–1917 (1907)

Table 9 summarizes the operationalization schema, matching elements of coordination with variables and their sources.

Table 9:

Operationalizing managerial coordination.

Element of managerial coordinationVariableTemporal rangeSources
MultilateralismMajor Power Managerial Alliance1715–1815Gibler 1999, 2009
ConsultationMembership in Active IGOs1715–1815None
1816–2010Hansen et al. (2008) and Bercovitch and Schneider (2000)
Membership in Peace Congresses1715–1815None
Adversarial CoordinationMajor Power Adversarial Alliances1715–1815Gibler 1999, 2009
Major Power Linked Strategic Rivalries1946–2010ATOP and Colaresi et al. (2008)


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Published Online: 2019-02-28

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