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date: 16 August 2017

Theory of Regional War and Peace

Summary and Keywords

The explanation of the variations in war and peace patterns across different regions, and transitions between war and peace in the same region, is based on the introduction of the state-to-nation imbalance in a certain region—this imbalance is a key substantive underlying cause of regional war propensity. Variations in this cause account for some of the major differences in the level of war and peace among different regions. Different strategies of addressing this problem (based on global or regional/domestic factors) then produce different types and levels of regional peace. The relative influence of global versus regional/domestic factors on regional war and peace is notably addressed. The study distinguishes between “hot” and “cold” (i.e., more or less intense) types of regional war and peace, and argues that global factors (i.e., the involvement of external powers) may at most bring about the less intense cold phenomena (“cold” war and “cold” peace), whereas the more demanding hot outcomes that constitute the two extremes of the regional war-peace continuum (“hot” war and “warm” peace) depend on domestic/regional causes. The key domestic/regional factors are the level of state capacity and of national congruence (both internal and external) in the region. Each of the regional outcomes is related to the combination of independent variables affecting it. This should make it possible to examine the proposed integrated effects of the state-to-nation balance and the international system on regional war and peace.

Keywords: region, war, peace, state-to-nation balance, great powers, state strength, national congruence, international system, intervention, empirical international relations theory

Explaining Transitions and Variations in Regional War and Peace Patterns

Some regions are prone to large-scale violence, while others are peaceful. How can we explain these important variations? This article proposes a theory of regional war and peace by advancing an explanation of the variations in war and peace patterns across and within different regions.

This study proposes that the combined effect of two factors—state strength and national congruence—is the most important, although an additional factor can mitigate or aggravate their effects—great power intervention The two key factors—state strength and national congruence—can be subsumed under what this article refers to as “the state-to-nation balance.”1 (see Figure 4 below).

Questions of regional war and peace have assumed crucial importance in the post–Cold War era due to the growing salience of regional conflicts with the end of the superpower rivalry and their potential implications for international stability. The events of September 11, 2001, and especially the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the overall “War on Terror” show, moreover, that the relationship between global security, US national security, and regional conflicts (i.e., issues such as the relations between Afghanistan and its neighbors, the Pakistan-India conflict over Kashmir, and the Saudi-Iranian contest and the closely related Sunni-Shiite rivalries) is at least as tight as it was during the Cold War, if not more so. Similarly, the aftermath of the Arab Spring and rising Chinese and Russian assertiveness toward their respective neighbors demonstrate the close relations between international and regional security. The result is that the sources of regional conflicts, and regional peacemaking and resolution of such conflicts, must be addressed not only because of their intrinsic importance but also because they bear directly on key issues of international security.

Indeed, a number of books published since the end of the Cold War have made an important contribution to our understanding of the great variety of regional orders emerging in the post–Cold War era.2 These works serve as a useful antidote to purely systemic analyses and especially to the widely assumed increasing globalization of world affairs.3 They demonstrate forcefully the centrality of regional phenomena for understanding key developments in the security field in the post–Cold War era. However, they fail to develop a coherent theory of regional orders that would make sense of regional war and peace. The related useful literatures on territorial conflicts,4 enduing rivalries5 and civil and ethnic conflicts6 focus mostly on the dyadic level rather than on the regional one. Developing a coherent theory of regional security is the key objective of this article.

In order to develop such a theory, it is necessary to answer two interrelated questions: First, what are the substantive causes of regional war and peace? And second, are these causes located at the global/systemic level or the regional/domestic level? In other words, is regional war and peace influenced more by global developments in great power relations and systemic distributions of power, or by developments in the region and within the regional states? The first question is related to the debates among competing perspectives in IR theory, which advance different approaches to the causes of war and peace in general and regional war and peace in particular.7 The second question is a restatement of the levels of analysis problem with regard to regional war and peace. This question refers to the level of factors affecting regional war and peace, namely the relative influence of global/systemic vs. regional/domestic factors on regional outcomes. International relations theory has not resolved the debate between two opposing approaches to this question.8

I argue in this study that neither a single theoretical perspective nor a single level of analysis can account for the variety of regional war and peace outcomes. Thus, the fact that dramatic changes have recently taken place in different regions more or less at the same time following a major international change—the end of the Cold War—shows the important effects of international factors on regional conflicts. At the same time, the different directions of these changes, and the great variations across regions in the post–Cold War era in terms of war and peace, notably between peaceful relations in Western Europe and armed conflicts in the Balkans and some parts of the Third World (Goldgeier & McFaul, 1992) indicate the significance of regional factors in affecting regional war and peace.

As a result, in order to explain regional transitions and variations in war and peace patterns, one must integrate a number of major theoretical perspectives and both levels of analysis into a single coherent theoretical framework. To achieve this goal, this article establishes causal relations between different approaches and levels of analysis and different types of regional war and peace outcomes. In other words, this article specifies which type of phenomena is best explained by which causal factor. Thus, the proposed theory first specifies which type of regional security outcomes is best explained by various global factors and which type of regional outcomes is best accounted for by various regional/domestic causes. Second, the theory assesses the combined effects of various global and regional/domestic factors on regional orders.

The explanation is based on the introduction of the state-to-nation imbalance in a certain region as the key underlying cause of regional war propensity. It is used here in two novel ways, both in conceptualizing the state-to-nation imbalance as a regional cause and in using it to account for regional outcomes.9 In contrast, the literature uses factors related to this imbalance as domestic factors to account for dyadic phenomenon. Different strategies of addressing the state-to-nation imbalance (based on global or regional/domestic factors) then produce different types and levels of regional peace. This chapter distinguishes between “hot” and “cold” (i.e., more or less intense) types of regional war and peace and argue that global factors (i.e., the involvement of external powers) may at most bring about the less intense “cold” phenomena (“cold” war and “cold” peace), whereas the more demanding hot outcomes which constitute the two extremes of the regional war-peace continuum (“hot” war and “warm” peace) depend on domestic/regional causes.

If validated, both logically/deductively and empirically/historically, such a model should provide a powerful explanation of major regional patterns of war and peace, and the ability to predict at least the outline of potential future developments in different regions. Such a theory could also be helpful in evaluating various global and regional mechanisms for managing regional security.

The rest of the article is organized as follows: the first section discusses the gaps in the IR literature regarding the explanation of regional war and peace. The second part presents the dependent variables of the study—a typology of regional war and peace patterns. The third part introduces the independent variables—the global and regional/domestic causal factors affecting regional war and peace. The fourth section presents the causal linkages between different types of causal factors and the various types of regional war and peace. The fifth presents the proposition about the state-to- nation imbalance as a key cause of regional war to be further investigated empirically.

The final section introduces propositions integrating the state-to-nation factor and the global variables, which should also be empirically examined.

Why is There a Need for a New Theory of Regional War and Peace?

This section introduces the gaps in the IR field concerning the explanations of regional peace and conflict; thus it provides the justification for a new theory to account for this phenomenon.

Too Much Focus on Great Power Rivalry

Despite some recent important developments, the international security field is still dominated by the traditional issues of great power rivalry and war. Most wars and deaths are no longer attributable to such conflicts, and yet our conventional theories are based upon them. This study attempts to develop a new theory of regional orders which builds on both the traditional literatures on international conflict and international relations theory more generally, and the new literatures on ethnic conflict, civil war, small state behavior, and violent non-state actors.

Lack of a Rigorous Integration of Regional and International Factors

Neorealists underline the primacy of the international system; regional specialists argue that unique regional factors are the most important for explaining regional outcomes. Many analysts accept that both levels are important in one way or another. Yet they do not specify ways of integrating the two levels while maintaining a rigorous explanation. This study offers a novel way of doing it.

IR Theory and Regional Conflicts: Conceptual Limitations to Explanatory Power

The greatest problem of both realist and liberal approaches to war in general and regional war in particular10 (and the main reason they cannot account for regional variations in war-proneness) is that both overlook the political context of regional wars i.e., the actors’ motivations for going to war the attributes that affect these motivations, and the substantive issues for which wars are fought, most notably related to nationalism, territory, and boundaries.11 More specifically, both approaches treat the nation-state as a unified actor that either reacts to threats and opportunities in the international system (realism) or acts according to the nature of its regime and the effects of economic interdependence and international institutions (liberalism). They even use the terms “state” and “nation” interchangeably as indicated by some major book titles in the IR field.12 Although states and nations are almost identical in some regions (notably the Americas and Western Europe), they are not the same in some other regions (notably, sub-Saharan Africa; the post-Soviet sphere; South Asia; the Balkans, and the Middle East).13 Such a variation among regions can go a long way toward explaining the war/peace variation among them. The imbalance between states and nations has crucial implications for international politics because of the centrality of the state—the key actor in the international system—and also of nations, which have been the key political identification since at least the late 18th century.14 Moreover, national self- determination is a major norm legitimizing sovereignty in the international system and an ideology aspiring people to fight for their independence.15

Thus, neither realism nor liberalism can explain the motivations of the regional actors to resort to violence derived from problems of state-to-nation incongruence. It is the state-to-nation imbalance in the region that provides a basic motivation for war and therefore makes certain regions more war prone than others. In other words, it is an underlying cause that determines the extent of regional war propensity. Thus, it incorporates substantive issues of war such as territory, boundaries, state creation and state making, as well as the motivations for war related to hypernationalist revisionist ideologies. While there are other significant ideologies and affiliations, not only is nationalism an especially powerful ideology,16 but also the state-to-nation issue exercises direct bearing on the key values of states—their territorial integrity and in some cases even their survival as independent states. Thus, the importance of this issue for international politics is especially crucial.

The Territorial Conflict Literature: A Useful Framework but not a Theoretical Explanation

The state-to-nation imbalance therefore provides an explanation for the frequent occurrence of territorial conflicts among states. In the recent decade or so a major strand of literature in IR has argued that territorial conflicts are the major source of war.17 Yet these authors do not provide a theoretical explanation of why such wars occur so frequently and under what conditions territorial conflicts are more likely to escalate to large-scale regional violence. Moreover, the territorial literature’s argument that conflicts erupt over territory does not provide by itself an explanation whether the conflict is because of the territory’s strategic location, its economic resources or the state-to-nation issues involved with it.

From the Dyadic Level to Regional Outcomes

The state-to-nation imbalance is a major source of territorial conflicts and especially of those regional conflicts that escalate to violence and are hard to resolve peacefully. While the literatures on territorial conflicts and enduring rivalries focus on the dyadic level, this chapter suggests that the extent of the state-to-nation imbalance in a certain region affects the stability of the region as a whole because of the strategic interdependence among the units which constitute this region. The primary security concerns of these units link them together “sufficiently closely that their national securities cannot realistically be considered apart from one another.”18

Too High a Divide Between Domestic and International Conflict

Since the end of the Cold War analysts have focused on domestic conflicts and argued both that these conflicts are closely associated with ethnic conflicts and that this type of conflict is replacing international ones as the key conflicts in world politics. This study suggests a common cause of many of both civil and international conflicts related to the state-to-nation balance. This especially applies to the many cases in which we have “mixed” internal and transborder conflicts. Two examples refer to the Kurdish problem involving Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria and the Sunni-Shia conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. The recent round of this sectarian conflict emerged in the aftermath of the US intervention in Iraq and the Arab Spring. This conflict involves also Iran as the leader the Shia camp and Saudi Arabia as a key supporter of Sunni causes.19

Explaining Both War and Peace

In the literature the causes of war and sources of peace are usually treated separately, but it is not possible to understand transitions from war to peace without knowing the sources of regional wars and how different peace strategies address them. Different theories explain different aspects of regional peace, but these theories are disconnected from each other, and there is no single framework that integrates these theories into a coherent theoretical construct capable of accounting for differences among different regions, or for regional transitions from war and peace.

The Phenomena to be Explained: Defining a Region

The Logic for the Regional Level as a Useful Unit-of-Analysis for War and Peace

The two key elements that transform a certain group of states into a region are:

(1) a certain degree of geographical proximity and (2) strategic interaction (Schelling, 1966) or security interdependence (Morgan, 1997, pp. 25–26).20 Some geographical contiguity is a necessary element in defining a region. Still, it is the intense interactions and the extent of interdependence among a group of neighboring states, rather than mere geographical considerations, which determine the region’s boundaries.21 These interrelationships are so consequential for the regional states that the behavior of any one of them “is a necessary element in the calculation of the others.”22 Buzan correctly (1991, chapter 5) defines a region, or what he calls a “security complex,” as “a group of states whose primary security concerns link together sufficiently closely that their national securities cannot realistically be considered apart from one another” (p. 190).23 Since proximate states are most likely to get into war with each other, and wars among neighbors have historically been the dominant type of interstate wars,24 it is in regional settings that the danger of war and the necessity of peace primarily arise. Moreover, a number of studies found that a war contagion/diffusion operates at the regional level. These studies explore the probabilities of both inter- and intra-regional contagion and conclude that conflict spreads within but not across regions.25 Other studies found that border contact increases the probability of war contagion (reviewed in Geller & Singer, 1998, pp. 106–107). The regional context is thus the most appropriate—and relevant—context for studying war and peace. Regional peace is a prerequisite for global peace.26 Surprisingly, security studies have neglected the study of regional military conflict.27

The logic behind looking at regions as the unit of analysis is based on the strong security interdependence between a state and its neighborhood. The presence of an armed conflict in a neighboring state (internal or interstate) increases the risk of state—and regional—instability. The level of proximity conditions the ability to project power by both states and non-state actors so that the ability of most of them to do it is constrained to their own neighborhood. Thus, the danger of war—and thus the challenge of peace—is especially applicable to the regional level. The contagion effects of regional armed conflict can heighten the risk of state instability—and vice versa—especially when ethnic or other communal groups span across borders.28

A Typology of Regional War and Peace

Theory of Regional War and PeaceClick to view larger

Figure 1. The Dependent Variables: A Regional War—Peace Continuum.

Source: Originally printed in Miller (2007, p. 43).

Figure 1 illustrates the dependent variables of a regional war-peace continuum.29 This chapter distinguishes among five types of regional outcomes according to the probability of the use of force:30

Hot war is a situation of actual use of force leading to more than a thousand battle deaths on all sides fighting in the war.31

Cold war is a situation in of a mere absence of hot war in which hostilities may break out at any moment. It is characterized by recurrent military crises and a considerable chance of escalation either to a premeditated or an inadvertent war. The parties succeed, at best, in managing crises; they avoid hot war while protecting their vital interests in crisis situations but make no serious attempt to resolve the fundamental issues in dispute. An important component of cold war situations is the diplomacy of regional hot war termination manifested in the establishment of ceasefires or armistices. The presence of enduring rivalries in the region is a key indicator of a cold war there.32

Cold peace is a situation in which both war among (and threats to use force by) the regional states are absent. The underlying causes of regional conflict are being moderated and reduced but are far from being resolved. The danger of a return to the use of force thus still looms in the background. There may be formal peace agreements among the parties, but the relations are conducted mostly at the level of governments rather than between the societies involved.

The category of warm peace refers to a low likelihood of war in the region and to much more cooperative relations among the regional states than in cold peace. The category is subdivided into two types—normal and high-level peace:

Normal peace is a situation in which the likelihood of war is lower than that in cold peace because most, if not all, of the underlying substantive issues at the root of the conflict have been resolved. War, however, has not been completely excised from regional politics. Relations among the states begin to move beyond relations between governments.

High-level peace is a situation in which regional war is no longer thinkable, whatever the international or regional developments. Even if not all the disputes among the regional states have been settled, the use of force to address them isi e out of the question. This type of peace is characterized by extensive transnational relations and a high degree of regional interdependence.

The Independent Variables: Global and Regional/Domestic Factors

The theory of regional war and peace is composed of two sets of independent variables: regional/domestic and global.33

Regional-Domestic Causal Factor: The State-to-Nation Balance

The regional state-to-nation balance has two distinctive dimensions: The first dimension refers to the prevalence in the region of strong or weak states. This is the “hardware” of state-building. The second refers to the extent of congruence or compatibility between political boundaries and national identifications in a certain region. This is the “software” of nation-building.

The extent of state strength (or the success of state-building)

This variable refers to the institutions and resources available to states for governing the polity.34 Weak states lack effective institutions and resources to implement their policies and to fulfill key functions. Most notably, they lack an effective control over the means of violence in their sovereign territory and an effective law-enforcement system is absent. Thus, weak states face great difficulties in maintaining law and order and providing security in their territory. This, in turn, severely handicaps the economic activity in these states. They are unable to raise sufficient revenues and to collect enough taxes so as to be able to maintain an effective bureaucracy and provide even elementary socioeconomic and other vital services to the population (mail delivery, regular water supply, road network, electricity, education, health care, etc.). Strong states control the means of violence in their sovereign territory and possess an effective set of institutions. Tilly (1975) focused on the ability of the state to coerce, control, and extract resources as the key to state making. Thus state strength or capacity can be measured by the ability of the state to mobilize manpower for military service and to extract financial resources from their societies.35 Another useful measure is per capita income, which is a useful proxy for state strength (Fearon & Laitin, 2003, p. 80).36

The degree of congruence (or the extent of success of nation-building)

This variable refers to the extent of congruence between the existing division of a given region into territorial states and the national aspirations and identities of the people in the region. More specifically, it refers to the extent to which the current political boundaries in a certain region reflect the national affiliations of the main groups in the region and their aspirations to establish states and/or to revise existing boundaries.37 High congruence means that the regional states (as entities or set of institutions administering certain territories) reflect the national sentiments of the peoples in the region (i.e., their aspirations to live as national communities in their own states).38 In other words, there is a strong acceptance and identification of the people in the region with the existing states and their territorial boundaries. Such an acceptance must not be based only on ethnic homogeneity of the regional states but can also be based on civic nationalism.39 Civic nations share cultural features but are generally multiethnic in their makeup, most notably in the immigrant societies of the New World (the Americas and Australia) and also in many cases of the state-initiated nationalism of Western Europe. In other “Old World” societies, however, nationalism and ethnicity are more closely related.

A state-to-nation incongruence leads to a nationalist dissatisfaction from the regional status quo. Before presenting these challenges, however, two issues must be addressed: the independent measurement of incongruence and under what conditions incongruence results in revisionist challenges.

Avoiding Tautology: Measuring the State-to-Nation Incongruence as an Independent Variable

There are two primary senses in which a region’s geopolitical and national boundaries may be incongruent in relation to the ethno-national criterion of one state per one nation:

  1. 1. “Too few states”: A single geopolitical entity may contain numerous national groups. This is the internal dimension of incongruence.

  2. 2. “Too many states”: A single national group may reside in more than one geopolitical entity. This is the external dimension of incongruence.

Thus, one potential way to measure the regional state-to-nation balance is by combining the effects of the following two measures:

  1. 1. The proportion of states in the region that contain more than one national group.

  2. 2. The proportion of states in the region in which the majority ethnic group lives in substantial numbers also in neighboring and other regional states, either as a majority or a minority.

The higher the combined effect of the two measures, the higher the state-to-nation incongruence in the region.40

Explaining Variance: Demography and History

There might be, however, variations in the translation of the state-to-nation incongruence to nationalist challenges to the regional status-quo. Two key factors—demography and history—affect the likelihood that this incongruence will be translated to nationalist challenges to the existing states-system. The first factor is demography, or more precisely, the geographical spread of the national groups in the region. The second factor is the history of the state and the nation in the region: which preceded whom, and especially if some ethno-national groups lost the dominance they once held of the territories they settle now or in adjacent areas.

Demography: The first sense of incongruence—one state with a number of nations—is more likely to lead to secessionist challenges under the following two conditions: (a) the settlement patterns of ethnic groups in the region. Concentrated majorities of ethnic groups (i.e., the members of the group reside almost exclusively in a single region of the state) are more likely to risk violence to gain independence than other kinds of settlement patterns such as urbanites and dispersed minorities and even concentrated minorities. Thus, the more concentrated ethnic majorities are in the region, the higher the number of attempts of secession.41 (b) The state is more likely to oppose violently such endeavors if it is a multinational state that fears a precedent-setting by the secession of one ethnic group that would trigger secessionist attempts by other ethno-national groups in its territory.42 Thus, the combination of (a) and (b) (i.e., the presence of multinational states with concentrated ethno-national majorities in a number of regions is likely to lead to violence) like in Chechnya, whereas the bi-national nature of Czechoslovakia eliminated the fears that following the secession of Slovakia there would have been other such attempts.

The second sense of incongruence—of a single ethnic nation residing in a number of regional states poses revisionist challenges if at least in one of these states there is an ethnic majority of this group. It is more likely that such a majority, rather than minority groups, can mobilize the state’s resources for its nationalist agenda. External incongruence is also magnified in proportion to the extent of the trans-border spread of the national groups in the region: the greater the spread, the greater the imbalance. That is, a spread of a single ethnic nation into five neighboring states creates a greater imbalance in the whole region than the spread into two states that might create conflict only between these two states. A good example is the post-Soviet sphere, where following the breakup of the Soviet Union, millions of ethnic Russians remained as minorities in quite a few states outside of Russia. This has created the potential for conflict, especially once Russia became a stronger state in the 2000s.

History.—The history of state formation and of national independence:

If the state preceded the nation, it is more likely that there will be a state-to-nation congruence, and vice versa, if ethnic nationalism preceded the state, incongruence is more likely. The state preceded the nation, notably in the case of Western Europe where nationalism was initiated by the state (Cederman, 1997, p. 142; Tilly, 1990) and in the case of the immigrant societies in the New World (Walzer, 1997, pp. 30–35). In Eastern Europe/the Balkans and the Middle East, however, ethnic nationalism had emerged before the states system was created following the collapse of the multinational Ottoman and Habsburg empires. Because at least some of the new states’ boundaries did not coincide with the preexisting ethnic nations, this has led to a mismatch between states and nations in these regions.

Nationalist challenges are more likely by national groups that lost the control they once held over territories in the region, especially if these territories are identified with a past “golden age” of national glory. These territories become major expressions of the nation’s identity, both past and present (for detailed case-studies in Central and Eastern Europe, see White, 2000). The problem is, however, that due to changing boundaries and ethnic demographics over the years, in many cases there are competing nationalist claims based on “history” vis-à-vis the same territory. Moreover, these claims might clash with present ethnic distributions. Israel for the Zionists and Kosovo for the Serbs are good examples.

Theory of Regional War and PeaceClick to view larger

Figure 2. The Causal Chain between Incongruence and Violence.

Source: Originally printed in Miller (2007, p. 43).

Figure 2 presents the causal relations between incongruence and violence. It especially underlines the role of demography and history as antecedent conditions that affect the impact that the independent variable is likely to have on producing nationalist challenges to the status quo and thus on the likelihood of violence.

The leaders of these challenges (state leaders or non-state leaders of nationalist groups) might truly believe in these nationalist causes or manipulate them for their own power purposes because of the popular appeal of these ideas. They will not be able, however, to manipulate these forces unless there are some popular forces and movements in the region that subscribe to these beliefs and are committed to advancing them. Such forces are going to be stronger, the greater the mismatch between the state boundaries and the nations in the region on the grounds of preexisting ethnic-national affiliation of the population or national-historic rights to the territory.

Key manifestations of the state-to-nation imbalance include the intensity and level of the presence of each of the following five nationalist challenges in the region: illegitimate states, pan-national movements, irredentist-revisionist states, incoherent or “failed” states, and “illegitimate nations.” Knowing the figures for each of these components in a certain region does not allow us to predict the precise likelihood of war. Yet, this knowledge enables us to compare the level of war proneness of different regions. In addition, changes in such figures in a certain region over time allow us to assess the rising or declining likelihood of armed conflict in the region. External incongruence and strong states leads to the first three elements of nationalist revisionism in the region,43 while internal incongruence in weak states leads to state failure and secession.

The Combination of External Incongruence and State Strength is Conducive to Revisionism

The presence of relatively strong states that are externally incongruent may lead to the following phenomena:

  • When there is a shared ethnic majority in two or more states, one can expect attempts at national unification led by a revisionist state. Such attempts will be supported by pan-national movements that challenge the legitimacy of existing states in the region and call for their unification because, allegedly, they all belong to the same nation and were divided arbitrarily by imperial powers. Examples include movements such as pan-Germanic, pan-Arabism, pan-Slavism, or pan-Islamic.

  • A related phenomenon is the illegitimate state—a state whose right to exist is challenged by its revisionist neighbors either because in their eyes the state’s population does not constitute a nation that deserves to have a state of its own or its territory should belong to a neighboring nation on historical grounds. Examples include the illegitimacy of Taiwan from the perspective of China; South Vietnam from the perspective of North Vietnam; South Korea as seen by North Korea; individual Italian and German states as seen by Italian and German pan-nationalists in the 19th century; and individual Arab states as seen from the perspective of pan-Arabism and pan-Islam.

  • The irredentist-revisionist state claims territories held by other states on grounds of national affiliation of the population or national-historic rights to the territory. This type culminates in the “Greater” state (Greater Germany, Greater Syria, Greater Israel, Greater Serbia, Greater Russia, etc). The likelihood of this category depends on the presence of political boundaries in the region, which cross ethnic nations so that a sizable portion of the ethnic nation is beyond the boundaries of the state that claims to represent this group or is dominated by it. It is also more likely if there are territories beyond the boundaries of the state to which there has been persistent and intense historical attachment as the homeland of the nation, where it was born and had glorified accomplishments.

The Presence of Internally Incongruent and Weak States is Conducive to State Failure and Attempts at Secession

Incoherent or “failed” states. Weak states that are also without nations, namely, these states failed to build political communities that identify with their states as their national homeland and that accept their territorial identity. These states tend to be both multinational and economically poor and thus lack the resources necessary to control the means of violence in their territory and to build effective institutions and coherent nations. Numerous African states belong to this category as well as Afghanistan and some post-Soviet republics and Arab states such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya.

Secession is an attempt by dissatisfied stateless “illegitimate nations” in the region to fulfill their aspiration for self-determination by seceding from existing state(s). Examples include the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey; the Tamils in Sri Lanka; the Chechnyans in Russia; ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine; and Kashmiris in India (in addition to the irredentist claim of Pakistan vis-à-vis Muslim Kashmir).44 These attempts at secession might be supported by regional states due to strategic or economic motivations but especially by states dominated by ethnic kin of the secessionist group (Saideman, 2001).

Based on these indicators we can distinguish between different regions whether they suffer from a state-to-nation imbalance in general and regarding the two dimensions of the balance. Thus, South America and Western Europe have lower state-to-nation imbalances than most other regions. Phenomena such as “illegitimate states,” strong pan-national movements, and the “Greater state” are almost non-existent, although some weak states are present in South America and a few “illegitimate nations” exist in Western Europe.45 Among the regions with a high state-to-nation imbalance, Africa is notable for a low state coherence due to the combination of internal incongruence and state weakness, Northeast Asia experiences much nationalist revisionism due to the combination of state strength and external incongruence, while the Middle East hosts both revisionist states (notably Iran and to some extent Turkey and Saudi Arabia) but also failed states such as those mentioned above.

Regional Effects of the State-to-Nation Imbalance

The two dimensions of the state-to-nation imbalance are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. To the extent that a revisionist state calls for the subordination of the regional states to a larger movement or authority, or advocates irredentist claims to the territories of neighboring states, it also undermines the internal coherence and the domestic legitimacy of the other regional states, especially if domestic groups within these states respond to the revisionist calls out of ideological/nationalist conviction or due to economic/political bribes and military assistance offered by the revisionist states to their co-ethnic groups inside the weak state. Both settlers and refugees undermine state coherence and encourage nationalist revisionism. Conversely, nationally incoherent and domestically unstable and illegitimate states invite aggression and intervention from strong revisionist neighbors and also “export instabilities”46 to neighboring states. Thus, domestic attempts at secession and border changes are likely to “spillover” and involve a number of regional states. Such spillovers may occur through a migration of refugees who seek shelter in neighboring states from the instability and turmoil within the incoherent state, or by the incoherent state hosting armed groups with secessionist or irredentist claims that infiltrate adjacent states. Terrorist groups may also take advantage of such states. Such hosting may be involuntary and result from the incoherence and weakness of the host state. Revisionist states, on the other hand, may host such groups by choice, in order to undermine their neighbors’ domestic order.47 Moreover, irredentist sentiments concerning one national group can be “contagious,” diffusing to other groups and states in the region.48

To sum up, the state-to-nation balance in a certain region exercises important effects on the balance of power between the status-quo states on the one hand, and revisionist states and non-state political movements (irredentist, pan-national, or secessionist), on the other. The greater the state-to-nation imbalance, the more powerful the nationalist-revisionist forces are in relation to the status-quo forces in the region and vice-versa. Under a state-to-nation imbalance, the supply-demand ratio of states is imbalanced. Either the demand considerably exceeds the supply, leading to wars of secession, or the supply far outnumbers the demand, resulting in wars of national unification.

Global Factors: Types of Great Power Regional Involvement

This variable refers to the type of great power involvement in a region. This type of involvement is the most important and directly relevant global factor for understanding transitions and variations in regional war and peace. The number of the great powers in the international system (polarity) is not in itself an important factor in affecting the pattern of regional involvement by the great powers; this is because the polarity of the system does not determine the balance of great power interests in a certain region: different balances of interests might take place under the same international system, while a similar balance might hold even if the polarity of the system changes. It is the balance of great power interests combined with their relative capabilities that determines the pattern of their regional involvement.49

More specifically, the distinction is among four major types of great power involvement: competition, cooperation, dominance, and disengagement. In competition and cooperation several great powers are involved in the region. Dominance means that there is a single hegemon in the region, while in disengagement neither of the great powers is involved in the region.

Great power competition with regard to a certain region means that the great powers focus on excluding one another from the region, or at least balancing each other in order to prevent the emergence of the rival as the hegemon in a region in which they have important interests. Small regional allies are the key for achieving the great powers’ regional goals and therefore the critical prize in such a competition. Competing great powers thus bid for the support of the small states.

Cooperation means that instead of competing, the great powers agree on common goals in the region and work together to promote them. The focus here is on “affirmative” cooperation: that is, active policy coordination and joint diplomatic, economic and military action vis-a-vis the region in question.50 With regard to the small regional states, great power cooperation and the promotion of the great power goals in the region may take a benign or accommodative form of persuasion and positive inducements or a coercive form of pressure and negative sanctions, or a mixture of the two.

Disengagement means that the great powers are involved neither diplomatically nor militarily in the region, apart from intervention on specific and limited grounds such as to rescue their citizens (Ullman, 1990). At a minimum, the powers refrain from political-security commitments in the region in question, whereas economic interests there are perceived as not necessitating military-diplomatic intervention or at least not justifying the costs involved in such intervention.51

Dominance (or hegemony) means the dominant involvement of one great power in the region. Similar to several cooperating powers, the dominant power can exercise a major influence on patterns and outcomes in the region in either a benign (Keohane, 1984, p. 32) or a coercive manner (Gilpin, 1981, p. 29).52

Theoretical Linkages: The Propositions

This section elaborates the causal linkages between the independent and the dependent variables of the theory. The section begins by looking at two core issues: the relative influence of global versus regional/domestic factors on regional war and peace and the substantive underlying cause of regional war proneness. Then the article posits different ways this major underlying cause may be addressed, which result in different types of regional war and peace. The article then relates each of the regional outcomes to the combination of independent variables affecting it.

The Type of Influences of Global versus Regional/Domestic Factors on Regional War and Peace

This study aims at integrating domestic/regional and global factors through the core argument that while cold regional phenomena (either war or peace) are affected by international factors, hot regional outcomes are best accounted for by domestic/regional causal factors. Thus, while the great powers are important for understanding regional war and peace, the scope of their influence is limited to the particular domain of the cold outcomes rather than the warm ones, which are generated by the regional parties.

The logic behind this argument is based on two interrelated considerations: first, whether the regional outcomes depend on the capabilities or the motivations of the regional states, and second, whether the balance of interests favors the great powers or the local states. External powers may affect the capabilities of regional states (mainly, through supplying or withholding arms and economic aid). In contrast, changing the basic motivations or objectives of the local states is beyond their power. Therefore, great power influence is limited to those outcomes which may be affected without changing the basic motivations of the local actors.53

The resort to arms in a hot war, as well as the full-blown termination of regional conflicts in a warm peace, whether normal or high level, are extreme options at the two ends of the regional war/peace continuum. They require a huge commitment of resources and an acceptance of drastic changes on the part of the actors (and thus a high motivation). War is a drastic policy option, especially in the modern era, because of the attendant risks and dangers, its unpredictable nature and the high costs involved in organized violence in terms of human life, the destruction of property, the waste of resources, and the disruption of normal economic and trade activities. In the case of high-level peace, and to a lesser extent in normal peace, there is also a major departure from traditional self-help behavior under anarchy54 because such a reconciliation implies the self-denial of the use of force option even as a means of last resort for resolving conflicts. In embarking on normal (and especially high-level) peace, states also take the risk that their neighbors might take advantage of their willingness to cooperate and will abuse their lack of preparedness to meet potential military threats in the region. As a result, the great powers cannot by themselves motivate the regional states to embark on hot wars or to impose on them full-blown normal or high-level peace. Such moves, which depart drastically from the previous status quo, depend on the goals and characteristics of the local parties themselves. This argument shows the implausibility of the notion of proxy wars, which assumes an ability on the part of great powers to induce local states to fight for great power (rather than their own) interests. In contrast, the cold outcomes, which are located between the two ends of the regional war/peace continuum, are less drastic and may be brought about with no change or limited change in the basic motivations and mutual perceptions of the regional parties. It is therefore in the domain of these outcomes that the influence of the great powers is especially felt.

The differential effects of the great powers and the regional actors on different regional outcomes also reflect different combinations of the balances of capabilities and interests between them at different stages of the war and peace continuum.55 The great powers are superior to regional states in overall resources (qualified by limitations in power-projection capabilities). The local actors have, however, superior stakes in a conflict in which they are direct participants and in which their key interests, or even their survival, are engaged, while only non-vital interests of the great powers are usually involved in remote regional conflicts. Even if the great powers have important stakes in a certain region (i.e., because of geographical proximity to that region or the location of key resources or important allies there), these stakes will still be lower than those of the direct local participants. Variations in these balances of capabilities and motivations regarding the different regional war and peace outcomes determine the relative effects of the global and local actors on these outcomes.

The balance of interests and motivations favors the regional actors, especially regarding the hot outcomes, because they have much more at stake than the remote great powers in a situation of embarking on a hot regional war or the major transformation in relations resulting in warm peace. However, at a certain point during a hot regional war the balance of interests might shift in favor of the great powers because of rising threats to their important interests in the region (such as “losing” an important ally who is being defeated militarily), and the growing probability of being drawn into the regional hostilities on behalf of their allies, which might lead to a direct confrontation among the powers. Thus, their willingness to impose restraint on regional states in situations of war termination (which, in the absence of a regional peace process, brings about a state of cold war) is greater than at the initiation of hot regional wars. The balance of capabilities also changes in the great powers’ favor at the end of the local wars, as the regional states become more dependent on them due to the depletion of their weapons and equipment stocks during the war. This makes them more vulnerable to great power pressure for war termination. As a result, the great powers may affect the scope and duration of regional wars but do not determine their outbreak. A good example is the failure of the superpowers to prevent the eruption of Arab-Israeli wars during the Cold War, while they succeeded to bring about a relatively early termination of these wars (Miller, 2001–2002).

In contrast to their limited influence in the domain of hot regional outcomes, thichas study highlights the crucial effects of the great powers on the emergence of cold outcomes, for two reasons. First, the great powers are particularly well equipped for this purpose because of their superior capabilities and the asymmetric interdependence between them and the local actors. An important regional mechanism for generating cold outcomes is the regional balance of power that might affect the cost-benefit calculations of local states and motivate them to move from hot war to cold war, from cold war to cold peace, or back to cold war. However, unless the great powers disengage from the region, the regional balance of power is itself highly dependent on the great powers, especially in regions important to them.56 Arms supplies (or arms embargoes on certain states) by the great powers shape regional balances. The great powers may also use economic means that affect the regional balance, either through rewards such as economic assistance, investment and technology transfers, or through economic sanctions on some states. Thus, the great powers may sustain regional cold wars or influence the emergence of cold peace, even if they do not determine the propensity of a region toward hot wars.

Second, great powers are especially important in affecting a transformation from hot/cold war to cold peace. Because the security dilemma is enhanced by proximity,57 local states will face great difficulties in generating regional peace on their own so long as the state-to-nation problems are not resolved (even though peace may serve their interests), especially if they have a long history of intense hostility. These difficulties create the opportunity for the great powers to play a major role in affecting transitions to cold peace, which may be achieved without the full-blown resolution of the regional state-to-nation problems.

Theory of Regional War and PeaceClick to view larger

Figure 3. Who Affects What and When: The Type of Outcomes Affected by the Great Powers and the Regional States.

Source: Originally printed in Miller (2007, p. 43).

As Figure 3 shows, the great powers can affect 2 and 5 (transitions from cold war to cold peace and vice versa), and also 1 (from hot war to cold war). However, the regional actors affect 3 (transition to warm peace), 4 (from warm peace to cold peace), and 6 (outbreak of hot war).

The difficulties of resolving state-to-nation problems may, however, also afford the great powers a limited role in the early stages of the emergence of warm peace, especially in situations of deep historic distrust. Yet, the great powers cannot achieve this on their own, without the minimal necessary regional/domestic conditions. Once these conditions further develop and stabilize, the help of the great powers will be rendered unnecessary for the endurance of warm peace.58

The State-to-Nation Imbalance as an Underlying Cause of Regional War Propensity

The state-to-nation imbalance increases the power of revisionist-nationalist ideologies (and the states that sponsor them) in the region and lowers the level of state coherence (because of the growing power of secessionist national groups within states, especially weak ones). The more powerful the nationalist-revisionist forces and the lower the level of state coherence in the region, the higher the regional war proneness. Hypernationalist-revisionist states are dissatisfied with the existing regional order, and if they are powerful enough, they may be willing to use force and to initiate irredentist wars in order to change it. State incoherence creates strong pressures by dissatisfied minorities for secession.59 Irredentism generates regional instability by posing a threat to the territorial integrity of neighbors and thus increases the security dilemma in the region. Secessionism brings about domestic wars, thus producing opportunities for external intervention by neighbors motivated by profit or fear that the others would gain at their expense if they do not intervene first. The likelihood of intervention would increase considerably if there are transborder ethnic ties in the region (Saideman, 2001). Strategic interdependence among regional actors may transform such interventions to regional wars. A recent example is the post-2003 Iraq and the post–Arab Spring Syria, Yemen, and Libya. The supposedly civil wars in these cases have become regional hot wars between, in most cases, Sunni and Shiites and regional cold wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Leaders of incongruent states may also use diversionary wars to strengthen their hold on power. This will be especially the case if these leaders suffer problems of legitimacy, at least partly because of the national incongruence of their state. Indeed, low domestic legitimacy affects war proneness by providing a tendency to scapegoating, which may also spread mutual insecurity in the region.60

The two elements of the state-to-nation imbalance—incongruence and state weakness—reinforce each other’s destabilizing effects on regional war-proneness. The situation is especially destabilizing when the strong and incongruent states become revisionist, which are guided by irredentist or pan-national ideologies (or are using such ideologies in their own interests). Such ideologies are both fed by the incoherence of the regional states and further weaken them by appealing to dissatisfied domestic elements. Conversely, weak or incoherent states are especially destabilizing if there are strong revisionist tendencies in the neighboring states that may drive them to intervene.

The state-to-nation imbalance is an underlying cause of regional wars. It makes certain regions more prone to wars than others due both to the emergence of substantive issues of conflict (territories and boundaries) and to the enhancement of the security dilemma and power rivalries in the region (i.e., the search for power and profit by expansionist revisionist states) under the conditions of state-to-nation imbalance. These power and security factors highlighted by the realist school are the proximate causes of specific regional wars.61 The balance of power, the offense/defense balance, and security fears determine when the basic regional predisposition for war will lead to actual wars: in other words, they provide the opportunity rather than the basic motivation for war.62 Namely, without their presence the underlying state-to-nation problems may not be translated into a specific war, but in the absence of a high degree of state-to-nation imbalance, power drives and security fears are less likely to take place and to lead to a resort to large-scale violence among neighbors.

Suggestions for Empirical Examination of the Explanatory Power of the Theory of Regional War and Peace

Scholars may examine the explanatory power of the state-to-nation imbalance by investigating data on the causes of war, which would suggest the general applicability of this explanation, and by a qualitative case study, which would illustrate the working of the causal mechanism.

Proposition 1: More wars are caused by state-to-nation issues than by other issues (such as territorial, strategic, balance of power, ideological, and economic). State-to- nation issues are also more likely than other issues to lead to cold wars in the region as manifested by enduring rivalries.

This proposition challenges the dominant logic in IR—either realist (strategic and balance of power or security dilemma) or liberal (ideological and economic) factors. It also provides a causal explanation of the territorial argument. The proposition is embedded in a theory of war and peace that is absent in some of the empirical-quantitative work on territorial conflicts.63

Integrating the Effects of the Global and Regional/Domestic Factors

Various types or levels of regional peace are the result of different ways of addressing this underlying cause of regional war propensity. Whether, how and to what extent the question of the state-to-nation incongruence is resolved determines the type or level of regional peace. This is closely related to the above discussion regarding levels of analysis because the external great powers are able and willing at most to mitigate—rather than resolve—the state-to-nation problems in the region, and thus they may only affect lower-level cold outcomes, which do not demand the resolution of these problems. In contrast, in the higher-level warm peace the state-to-nation problems are resolved (or transcended), and therefore solutions have to be generated by the regional actors themselves. Thus, global elements can produce cold peace, but it will be of a different quality than a warm peace based on domestic-regional factors. The idea is that the higher the level of peace, the more demanding it is with regard to resolving the state-to-nation issues in the region; hence, the requirement to move beyond global mechanisms and to rely on the appropriate regional-domestic factors.

The following Figure 4 and propositions elaborate the combined effects of the two types of factors (global and regional/domestic) on regional war and peace outcomes.

Theory of Regional War and PeaceClick to view larger

Figure 4. Four Categories of Regional Order—The Combined Effects of the Type of Great Power Involvement and the State-to-Nation Balance in the Region.

Source: Originally printed in Miller (2007, p. 43).

In categories 1 and 2 the outcomes vary among hot wars, cold war, or cold peace but do not reach warm peace. The reason is that in both category 1 and category 2 there is a state-to-nation imbalance in the region leading to some combination of powerful revisionist forces and state incoherence. What makes the difference between category 1 and 2 is the type of engagement of the great powers. Although there are important differences among the four types of engagement, for the purposes of evaluating their influence on regional orders and for analytic clarity and theoretical simplicity, it is possible to divide them into two sub-groups: competition/disengagement vs. hegemony/cooperation. In contrast, in both categories 3 and 4, which are not discussed here due to space limitations, the outcome is warm peace caused by a high state-to-nation balance, which leads to status-quo orientations of the regional states and high state coherence. In category 4, the regional peace is further warmed by liberal compatibility.64

Category 1

Proposition 2: Hot regional wars are not wars by proxy but are initiated by the local parties due to regional and domestic considerations unrelated to global strategic calculations.

A possible deduction from offensive realist logic is the argument about the de-stabilizing influence of the competing great powers on the escalation of the local conflicts of their proxies. Yet, in accordance with this article’s general argument about hot outcomes and regional/domestic factors, these factors will most likely be the decisive ones in generating hot wars. Moreover, competing great powers will try to prevent regional wars of their clients because of their fear that these wars will drag them to inadvertent escalation. Yet, they might fail in these attempts due to the advantages of the regional actors in the balance of motivation at the stage of local war initiation. Such motivations of regional states are related to the state-to-nation issues rather than to global strategic issues.

Another reason for such failures is the great power competition that weakens the ability of the great powers to control their clients.

Many argue that the great-power competition in the Middle East led to the regional wars (see Luttwak, 1995, p. 109). Yet, the regional wars were not caused by external great powers but rather were initiated by the local states, mostly against the great powers’ wishes. The Middle East presents a hard or even a “crucial” case for examining also the thesis about the decisive role of regional factors, rather than global ones, regarding war eruption, because this region has become “the most penetrated international relations subsystem in today’s world.”65

Proposition 3: Great power competition or disengagement and unresolved regional state-to-nation problems result in cold war (punctuated by hot wars).

Category 1 is a zone of cold war punctuated by hot wars. Great-power disengagement from a regional conflict means the independence of the regional parties from the great powers. In a situation of unresolved state-to-nation problems, the outcome will be an insulation of the regional conflict from great power influence and its continuation without interference from the outside and in accordance with the resources and motivations of the regional states. As a result, regional wars may last for protracted periods without being interrupted and contained. They will end (and break out again) in accordance with the local balances of power and motivations of the rival states, and their cost/benefit calculations. The outcome will be a protracted cold war with occasional hot wars—a situation in which not only are the underlying state-to-nation problems not resolved, but they are not even moderated. As a result, war remains a likely option for addressing the conflicts among the regional states.

This outcome will be sustained in a situation of great power competition, in which the regional conflict will be aggravated and perpetuated by the great power involvement. Great power competition tends to sustain protracted regional conflicts through the support that the great powers provide to the local antagonists who are their clients. This support may be diplomatic, economic, and military, including arms supply and strategic backing in times of regional crises. The competition between the great powers for influence and allies in the region allows the local states to manipulate them by threatening to realign and thus extract more aid. It therefore helps the clients to sustain the costs of a protracted conflict. At the same time, worried about escalating regional wars into which they might be dragged by their clients, the competing great powers may cooperate tacitly in limiting the duration and scope of regional wars. As a result, the regional wars under great power competition will not change the regional status quo dramatically and will stop short of the emergence of regional hegemons. Yet, such limited great power cooperation in regional war termination will not go beyond crisis management, which sustains a regional cold war by making the local hot wars shorter. Since competing great powers tend to support rival regional parties and disagree on the terms of settling regional conflicts, their competitive involvement will tend to perpetuate cold war and prevent a transition to cold peace. The great powers will be unable (and probably also unwilling) to work together effectively to mitigate the regional dispute or even to prevent hot wars.

Category 2

Proposition 4: Great power hegemony or cooperation mitigates/reduces the regional state-to-nation imbalance, thus producing cold peace.

In the second category, there is also a situation of regional state-to-nation imbalance, but the type of great power involvement changes from competitive to cooperative or hegemonic. As a result of this change, the region moves from cold war to cold peace under the stabilizing influence of a hegemon or cooperating great powers, which unlike disengaging or competing powers have both the capability and the interest to pacify the region.

Indeed, a situation of hegemony means the ability and willingness of one great power to use its superior power to be the principal arbiter of regional conflicts. Such unilateral arbitration or brokerage corresponds to the notions of Pax Romana, Pax Britannica, or Pax Americana. Such a dominant power need not be a global hegemon. It might be one of several great powers in the international system that enjoys superior power resources and/or superior interests with regard to a certain region. This situation usually takes place in regions that are proximate to one of the great powers (and distant from the others) and are its exclusive sphere of influence. A great power’s sphere of influence is defined as “a determinate region within which a single external power exerts a predominant influence, which limits the independence or freedom of action of political entities within it.”66 But hegemony can also take place in more remote regions when there is a single power that has both superior overall capabilities relative to the other powers (including the most effective power-projection capability in the global arena) and high interests in these regions. In a situation of great power cooperation in a certain region, such brokerage of the regional conflict will be undertaken by several powers acting in concert.

A concert of cooperating great powers or a stabilizing hegemon are unable to resolve the state-to-nation imbalance in the region that produces the basic motivations for war in the region. At best, they moderate the level of the regional conflict short of establishing state-to-nation balance. Still, they can deal effectively with the capabilities of the regional actors to go to war. As noted, the regional balance of power depends heavily on external support, notably arms supply by great powers. As a result, the great powers can constrain the regional ability to resort to force by imposing limitations on local military capabilities.

Beyond denying arms to the regional states, a hegemonic power or cooperating powers may undertake a variety of stabilizing measures that will advance cold peace in the region. In other words, they may be able (and willing) to proceed beyond regional crisis management (i.e., war termination), which is possible even under great power competition, to the more ambitious task of regional crisis prevention and conflict reduction. Cooperative or hegemonic great powers may help regional states to mitigate their dispute and moderate the level of state-to-nation incongruence by a combination of diplomatic mediation, making it easier to reach at least a partial settlement of the substantive issues in conflict; financial assistance, providing incentives for the regional states to compromise with their local rivals, as well as economic sanctions against those who refuse to make concessions; security reassurance and guarantees, which reduce the regional security dilemma, while deterring, and occasionally coercing, aggressive revisionist powers; and the construction of regional arms control regimes. The absence of great power competition will reduce disagreements among the powers over these measures and will also deny the regional states a realignment option and thus make them more amenable to moderating pressures from the great powers.

Great power hegemony or cooperation may take two forms, benign and coercive, depending on the means employed by the powers.67 The major limitation of great power hegemony or cooperation is that since the great powers are unable to affect the basic motivations of the regional states (stemming from the still unresolved state-to-nation problems), the regional outcome (cold peace) will depend on the continued presence and stabilizing role of the great powers. Without it the situation is liable to revert to cold or even hot war.

In the late 1980s, after Gorbachev came to power and US-Soviet relations improved, a change occurred in the type of great power engagement in some of the most war-prone places—from competition to some degree of cooperation. This change resulted in reduction, though not comprehensive resolution, of conflicts in a number of trouble spots in the Third World: Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Iran-Iraq. Yet following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, it disengaged from regional conflicts all over the globe, while the United States disengaged more selectively, especially from Africa. Thus, the pattern expected by proposition 3 (cold war interrupted by relatively frequent hot wars) dominated Africa in the 1990s and the first years of the 21st century with numerous civil and transborder wars in the Great Lakes region, the Horn of Africa, and in West Africa.

The Middle East and the Balkans provide major cases of the pacifying effects of great power hegemony or cooperation in regions that suffer from a severe state-to-nation imbalance, thus leading to regional cold peace. There are five cases of hegemony in these two regions in the 20th century, two of them in the Middle East and three in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The two Middle Eastern cases are the US hegemony vis-a-vis Egypt and Israel since the late 1970s, leading to the Camp David accords, and the US hegemony in relation to the Arab-Israeli arena as a whole in the 1990s, leading to a vigorous (even if problematic and eventually flawed) peace process.68 The three cases of hegemony in the Balkans/Eastern Europe are Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the USSR in the Cold War era, and the US assumption of the hegemonic role in Yugoslavia since 1995, leading to the Dayton peace agreements in that year and to the eventual pacification of the region. The pacifying effects of Soviet hegemony in the post-1945 era were manifested in a major reduction in the number of conflicts in this conflict-prone region. Only when Soviet hegemony disappeared in the early 1990s did major armed conflicts erupt in the Balkans. All of these conflicts were state-to-nation conflicts. While not fully resolved, their violent manifestations ended when the United States assumed leadership in the late 1990s. The major example of the stabilizing effects of great power cooperation is the post-Napoleonic Concert of Europe, culminating with the Balkans stabilization made possible by the 1878 Berlin Congress—even if only for a brief period

A recent case of the pacifying effects of a semi-concert refers to the moderating effects exercised on nationalist conflicts in Eastern Europe by the lure of joining the EU and NATO. A good example would be the conflicts between Hungary and its neighbors—Slovakia and Romania—which host large Hungarian minorities. The United States might be seen as the hegemon in this environment because of its leadership of the key security institution (i.e., NATO) and its role as a security provider, thus mitigating the destabilizing effects of anarchy. Yet, the key role played by the EU and its economic incentives also helped to pacify post–Cold War Europe, thus creating at least partly, a US-EU concert. At any rate, the effects of the international system here were benign and reduced the level of nationalist conflicts.69

In these cases, concert and hegemony produce a strategic-economic environment that makes it highly profitable, for both security and economic reasons, to join the regional peace process, while raising the costs for those who oppose the regional peace (e.g., Iraq under Saddam or Serbia under Milosevic). Thus, a regional peace process under the great powers include a “bandwagoning” dynamics that attracts local states interested in reinforcing their security and economy.70 The latter are status-quo players, while revisionists reject the regional peace unless they are subdued by the great powers. Under hegemony/concert those who oppose the peace are likely to pay a heavy price both economically and in their strategic situation so long as they reject the process. Thus, players become more supportive of the regional peace because of the combined offer by the hegemon/concert of rewards or positive sanctions for those who support the peace and punishment or negative sanctions to those who oppose it.

Categories 3–4

In contrast to great power involvement, the regional/domestic factors may address more effectively the motivations of the regional actors, and thus affect warm peace. This can be done either by changing those motivations directly related to the causes of regional wars, such as territorial disputes, or by transcending them through transforming the domestic attributes of the regional actors themselves—thus also radically changing their motivations regarding peace and war.

In both categories 3 and 4, which are not discussed here,71 there is a warm regional peace. The lower-level version of warm peace is normal peace, reached by effective state-building and nation-building, which produce a greater state coherence and national congruence, and as a result a transition of the regional states to status quo orientations. The notable case in this respect is 20th-century South America and to some extent also post-1967 ASEAN.72 The higher level of warm peace is achieved through regional liberal compatibility, which transforms the domestic attributes of the states. The leading case is Western Europe in the post-1945 era. The rapid and far-reaching transformation of Western Europe was heavily assisted in its formative stages by the benign US hegemony. Yet, following its consolidation, the high-level peace can stand on its own and persist even if the United States partially disengages from Europe in the post–Cold War era.

Since the type of great power involvement in the region makes a difference only so long as the state-to-nation problem is still unresolved, the variation between great power cooperation or hegemony on the one hand and competition or disengagement on the other makes a difference with regard to the variation between categories 1 and 2 (in both of which there is a major state-to-nation problem), but it does not affect the type of regional peace in categories 3 and 4, where the state-to-nation problem is resolved or transcended by the regional actors. The main variation within these two categories is the outcome of a regional/domestic factor rather than a global one: the extent of liberal compatibility in the region. In category 4 a high extent of liberal compatibility produces a high-level peace, while in category 3—a region with a state- to-nation balance, yet without liberal compatibility, generates a normal peace.


  1. 1. The extent of the state-to-nation imbalance explains variations in war-propensity among different regions.

The model proposed here is able to explain empirical variations among different regions such as the high war-proneness of the regions with high state-to-nation imbalance such as the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, South Asia, and East Asia in contrast to the peacefulness of regions with relatively low state-to-nation imbalances and strong civic nationalism such as South America during most of the 20th century and post-1945 Western Europe.73 The model can also account for the evolution of warm peace in South America during the 20th century due to a relatively effective state-building in the strongest states in the region. This process helped to create a state-to-nation balance in conjunction with the national congruence in the region (based on civic nationalism in immigrant societies and marginalization of the indigenous population).

  1. 2. The state-to-nation imbalance and issues related to it explain a substantial number of regional wars in the last 200 years or so, though surely not all of them, but more than most other explanatory factors.

The theoretical model presented here is relevant for explaining different levels of conflict in different time periods and regions. Thus, the theory’s purview is not limited to conflicts of the Cold War era (such as the Arab-Israeli wars or issues related to German unification) or even of the post–Cold War period (like the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the post–Arab Spring wars in the Middle East). It extends equally well to major earlier conflicts like the Wars of German Unification in the 19th century and the Balkan Wars that preceded World War I. Similarly, the theory is relevant for explaining the French-German nationalist rivalry over Alsace-Lorraine.

  1. 3. The model can also explain the concentration of key crises in the contemporary international system such as the East Asian conflicts between China and Taiwan and in Korea. Both of these cases involve demands for national unification based on the claim that there are “too many states” in relation to the number of nations, as was earlier the case with the war in Vietnam. The Indo-Pakistan conflict is another case of state-to-nation conflict revolving around Pakistan’s irredentist demands vis-a-vis India’s Kashmir. The maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas involve nationalist demands based on historical claims, especially by China.

  2. 4. Variations in the components of the state-to-nation imbalance explain different types of regional wars, for example, strong states that are externally incongruent tend to be revisionist, while internally incongruent weak states are more likely to face secessionist challenges and civil wars. Shared ethnic majority is more likely to lead to conflicts over unification, while majority-minority in adjacent states may result in attempts at irredentism.

  3. 5. War must not erupt necessarily in every case in which there is a state-to-nation imbalance, but such an imbalance is potentially destabilizing, and it is conducive to manipulations by leaders and states who are acting in their own power interests. Liberal democracy, with power-sharing or federal arrangements, may mitigate the state-to-nation problem. Yet democratization can also aggravate the problem, at least initially (Mansfield & Snyder, 2005; Miller, 2012) or the state-to-nation imbalance may make it harder to establish democracy in the first place (Horowitz, 1994).

  4. 6. The eruption of war partly depends on the regional balance of power, although the systemic environment is important for the management of state-to-nation conflicts: disengagement and especially competition aggravate the problem, while hegemony and cooperation mitigate it. The global factors on their own can at best bring about cold peace. Warm peace is also independent of the continuing stabilizing engagement of external powers in the region. Yet the domestic-regional prerequisites for warm peace, especially successful state/nation-building or democratization leading to liberal compatibility, are demanding and hard to reach in many regions. For this reason, great power hegemony or concert can be critical in advancing peaceful regional settlements,74 even if only cold ones, in regions in which there are intractable state-to-nation conflicts that the regional actors have a hard time resolving on their own without external assistance. Indeed, the inclusion of systemic factors can allow the model to account for the transitions within regions such as the emergence of cold peace in the Middle East in the 1990s (though then the hegemon itself de-stabilized the region via its 2003 Iraq intervention) and in the Balkans during the Cold War period under Soviet hegemony (and then after the post-1995 US-led interventions). It can also account for the environment under which a shift toward warm peace was made possible in Western Europe in the post-1945 era and in Eastern Europe in the post–Cold War period. Yet the warming of the regional peace and its maintenance eventually depends on the regional parties and the way they resolve or transcend the state-to-nation issues.

Finally, the present framework helps to overcome the divide between domestic/civil and international conflicts by focusing on the state-to-nation balance in different parts of the world as affecting the hot outcomes of hot war and warm peace. Nevertheless, the cold outcomes of these conflicts are affected by variations in the type of great power engagement in these regions.


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(1.) This essay focuses on presenting the theory of regional war and peace. For the supporting empirical evidence (case-study and quantitative), see Miller (2001, 20012002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015).

(2.) See, most notably, Buzan (1991), Job (1992); Wriggins (1992), Ayoob (1995), Holsti (1996), Maoz (Ed.) (1997), Lake and Morgan (1997), Solingen (1998), Kacowicz (1998), Lemke (2002), Buzan and Waever (2003), Fawn, ed. (2009), Ripsman and Paul (2010), Paul, ed. (2012) and Ripsman (2016). For works sharing the regionalist theme but not dealing only with security, see Fawcett and Hurrell (1995), and Holm and Sorensen (1995). See also Katzenstein (2005).

(3.) For an overview of the literature on globalization and citations, see Clark (1997). See also Buzan and Waever (2003).

(4.) Holsti (1991), Vasquez (1993), Huth (1996), Goertz and Diehl (1992b), Diehl (1999) and Walter (2003).

(5.) Goertz and Diehl (1992a) and Huth (1999).

(6.) See Walter (2002), Toft (2002–2003) and Cordell and Wolff (2010).

(7.) For recent overviews of competing explanations of war and peace, see Levy and Thompson (2010) and Cashman (2014).

(8.) For an overview of this debate, see Miller (2007).

(9.) The closest is Van Evera (1995), who uses the term “the state-to-nation ratio.” I further develop the partly related concepts of the “state-to-nation balance” and “congruence” and use them, in conjunction with the effects of the great powers, to create a coherent account of variations in regional war and peace.

(10.) For excellent overviews of realist and liberal approaches to war and peace, see Levy and Thompson (2010) and Cashman (2014).

(11.) For critiques of realism in this respect, see Goertz and Diehl (1992b), pp. 13–14, 23–25; Holsti (1991, 1992, 1996); and Vasquez (1993). For a related critique of realist offense-defense theory, focusing on military capabilities while marginalizing the political context, see Butfoy (1997). Gagnon (1995) explicitly criticizes realism for its inability to explain ethnic conflict, particularly the war in Yugoslavia. But see Posen’s realist explanation of the conflict in Yugoslavia (1993). On the limitations in the treatment of nationalism by both realism and liberalism, see Hoffmann (1998).

(12.) For example, Snyder and Deising, Conflict among Nations; Grieco, Cooperation among Nations; Singer and Geller, Nations at War; and Arthur Stein, Why Nations Cooperate. These authors had in mind states but used nations interchangeably.

(13.) For details, see Miller (2006, 2007, 2010, 2012).

(14.) Most modern scholarship dates nationalism as a movement and ideology since the late 18th century. See B. Anderson (1991, p. 4) and E. Gellner (1983, p. 38); but see also Smith (1991, pp. 43–70) and Greenfeld (1992).

(15.) On the connection between nationalism and popular sovereignty and the implicit relations with international peace, see J. S. Mill, cited in Mayall (1990), pp. 27–29.

(16.) Gellner (1983), Smith (2000).

(17.) Holsti (1991), Vasquez (1993), Goertz and Diehl (1992b).

(18.) This is Buzan’s (1991, chapter 5, p. 190) conception of a region, or what he calls a “security complex.” This is further developed in Buzan and Waever (2003).

(19.) Other examples include the Balkans, both in the 19th century and in the post–Cold War era; the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict; India-Pakistan and Kashmir; Congo and the other states in the Great Lakes region in Africa; the Greek and Turkish communities in Cyprus and Greece and Turkey; North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Vietcong; and Russia, various post-Soviet states and ethnic Russians in these states.

(20.) Ayoob suggests that “geographic propinquity and intensity of interaction form the core variables that define a region” (1995, p. 56).

(21.) For a partly related discussion, see Lake (1997, pp. 50–51); See also the excellent discussion in Wriggins (1992, pp. 3–13); and the discussion of the concept of PRIE (politically relevant international environment) by Maoz (1996).

(22.) Bull (1977), p. 10.

(23.) For an updated version, see Buzan and Waever (2003). See also Ayoob (1995), pp. 56–59. Thompson (1973) identifies four conditions for defining a regional subsystem summarized in Lake (1997), p. 47. See also Russett (1967); on regional security complexes, see also Morgan (1997) and on regional systems see Lake (1997), pp. 46–48. See especially Lake’s concept of externality (pp. 48–52) as defining a regional system. See also Solingen (1998) and Katzenstein (2005, pp. 6–13).

(24.) See Miller (2007, chapter 3) for the development of this argument.

(25.) For a recent study, see Gleditsch,(2002).

(26.) Kupchan (1998, p. 45).

(27.) See, for example, the discussion in Marc Levy (1995, p. 58).

(28.) Hewitt et al. (2012, p. 17); and Miller (2007).

(29.) The term “continuum” is used here to indicate the logical sequence of stages between maximum conflict (hot war) and maximum peace (warm peace). It is not intended to suggest a linear progression from war to peace. That is, a given region or group of states need not necessarily progress through all stages. Rather, stages may be skipped in accordance with the presence or absence of explanatory variables, and the process may be reversed (a regression from peace to war).

(30.) For an extended treatment of the dependent variables and references, see Miller (2007).

(31.) This figure is taken from the Correlates of War Project. See Small and Singer (1982), pp. 38, 54; see also Vasquez, (1993), pp. 21–29.

(32.) On enduring rivalries, see Goertz and Diehl (1992a).

(33.) An important intervening domestic/regional variable is the extent of liberal compatibility in the region. In order to maintain analytic clarity and due to lack of space, I will not discuss it here. See Miller (2007, p. 61).

(34.) On state-building, see Migdal (1988), and Ayoob (1995). On institutionalization as a key to political development, see Huntington (1968). See also Nettl (1968), who developed the concept of “stateness,”—the institutional centrality of the state; for a review of stateness, see Evans (1997).

(35.) See Gause (1992), p. 457 and the references he cites.

(36.) See also the indicators in Rotberg (2003), especially pp. 4–22.

(37.) This section draws especially on Van Evera (1995). See also Mayall (1990), Buzan (1991), Brown (1993, 1996), Brown et al. (1997), Cederman (1997), Gottleib (1993), Holsti (1996), Hoffmann (1998), Wimmer (2012), and Hall and Malešević, (2013).

(38.) On the definition of state and nation, see Gellner (1983, pp. 3–7), Connor (1994, pp. 90–117), Smith (2000, p. 3), and especially Barrington (1997, pp. 712–716), who emphasizes “the belief in the right to territorial self-determination for the group” as a central part of the definition of a “nation,” which is central for distinguishing nations from other collectivities. While many groups hold common myths, values, and symbols (including ethnic groups), nations are unified by a sense of purpose: controlling the territory that the members of the group believe to be theirs. As Gellner suggests, “nationalism” is “a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent” (1983, p. 1). Thus, nationalism is the active pursuit of control by a national group over the territory it defines as its homeland. As a result, every nationalist movement involves the setting of territorial boundaries (Barrington 1997, p. 714), and national conflicts must involve disputes over territory to be truly “national.” Key works on nationalism include Gellner (1983), Anderson (1991), Smith (1986, 2000), and Hobsbawm (1990) (these works are cited, for example, in Smith (2000) and Suny (1999–2000, p. 145).

(39.) In contrast to Van Evera (1995), who focuses on ethnic nationalism, I accept that nationalism can be either ethnic or civic. Civic nationalism focuses on citizen identification with the nation-state at its current territorial boundaries as opposed to a loyalty based on sub-national or transborder ethnic ties, which may challenge the existing boundaries. In ethnic nationalism, based on lineage and common ancestry, the nation precedes the state (the “German model”), whereas in the civic version, the state precedes the nation (the “French model”). See Brubaker (1992). On the distinction between ethnic and civic nationalism, see Smith (1986), and Greenfeld (1992). For a useful overview, see Kupchan (1995), chapter 1.

(40.) For example, in region A there are 10 states. 7 out of them are multinational while in 8 of them there is at least one majority ethno-national group that resides also in other regional states. In region B there are also 10 states out of which 6 are multinational, while in only two of the regional states there is a majority national group that inhibits other states in the region. The combined s/n measure for region A is 7+8/10=15/10; the combined s/n for region B is 6+2/10=8/10. Thus, the s/n imbalance is much higher in region A than in region B.

(41.) On the effects of settlement patterns on the inclination, legitimacy, and capacity of ethnic groups to secede, see Toft (2002–2003). See also Gurr (2000, pp. 75–76).

(42.) See Toft (2002–2003, pp. 95–96) on the importance of precedent-setting logic. See also Walter (2003).

(43.) On revisionist territorial demands among states, see Geertz and Diehl (1992a, 1992b, pp. 23–25).

(44.) For a comprehensive list, see Gurr (2000).

(45.) For details, see CIA World Factbook.

(46.) In Lake’s (1997) terms, such effects constitute security externalities or transborder “spillovers.”

(47.) For a useful overview of both irredentism and the secession challenge, see Mayall (1990, pp. 57–63).

(48.) With respect to war, a number of empirical studies have shown evidence of such “contagion” or “diffusion” at an intra-regional, rather than inter-regional level. See Geller and Singer (1998, pp. 106–108) for an overview.

(49.) For an extended analysis of the sources and effects of different types of great power regional involvement, see Miller (2001; 2001–2002)

(50.) On “negative” versus “affirmative” cooperation, see Stein (1983).

(51.) For an advocacy of a strategy of disengagement for the United States in the post–Cold War era, see Nordlinger (1995).

(52.) One variant of hegemonic theories underlines the benign or accommodative character of hegemonic leadership. This is hegemonic stability theory, which focuses on the international political economy, but the same logic may apply also to war and peace issues. See Keohane (1984); and Lake (1997, p. 61). Another variant advances a coercive type of hegemony. See Organski’s “power transition” theory (1968, chapter l4), and with Organski & Kugler (1980); Modelski’s “long cycle theory,” (1978) 214–235, and with Modelski & Thompson (1987); and Gilpin’s theory of hegemonic war and change (1981).

(53.) See Ayoob (1995, pp. 58–59).

(54.) See Waltz (1979).

(55.) On the balance of interests or motivations, see George and Simons (1994, p. 15). Motivation “refers to each side’s conception of what is at stake in the dispute, the importance each side attaches to the interests engaged by the crisis and what level of costs and risks each is willing to incur on behalf of those interests.”

(56.) For a related point, see Lake (1997, pp. 60–61).

(57.) See Walt (1987), and Buzan (1991).

(58.) These conditions are mentioned briefly below and discussed in greater detail in Miller (2001, 2007).

(59.) On the connections between secession and irredentism, see Horowitz (1992).

(60.) For an overview of recent works on diversionary wars, see Levy and Thompson (2010).

(61.) On the distinction between underlying and proximate causes of war, see Lebow (1981), Vasquez (1993, pp. 293–297) and Van Evera (1995).

(62.) For works on the offense/defense balance and the security dilemma, see Lynn-Jones (1995), Glaser (1997), Van Evera (1998), and Glaser and Kaufmann (1998).

(63.) See especially Miller (2007) for both a number of detailed case-studies as well as some quantitative data examining this proposition.

(64.) For an extended discussion of these four categories, see Miller (2007).

(65.) Brown (1984, pp. 3–5); see also Greges (1994, p. 1); Barnett (1995, p. 490), n. 39.

(66.) See Keal (1983, p. 15).

(67.) See Snidal (1985).

(68.) See Quandt (2001), and Hudson (1996).

(69.) Csergo and Goldgeier (2004).

(70.) On balancing vs. bandwagoning, see Walt (1987), and Schweller (1994).

(71.) These categories are analyzed in Miller (2007).

(72.) On South America see also Holsti (1996, chapter 8) and Kacowicz (1998); on ASEAN, see Khong (1997).

(73.) Although German unification has continued to pose a challenge to stability until 1990, systemic factors outside the purview of the model—bipolarity and MAD—stabilized the relations between the two parts of Europe during the Cold War. The expulsion of the ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe after 1945 has, however, reduced German irredentism toward this region.

(74.) See Kolodziej and Zartman (1996).