Globalization's Peace: The Impact of Economic Connections on State Aggression and Systemic Conflict

By Brian D. Blankenship
2012, Vol. 4 No. 08 | pg. 1/4 |

The question of whether economic relations have an impact on interstate military has divided scholars and political thinkers since the Enlightenment. Kant claimed that economic interconnectedness among states would contribute to long-term peace in international politics, but since that time consensus has proved illusory, and scholars have taken a diverse array of positions in the debate. Some have claimed that economic connections foster good will and political integration, and that states will be reluctant to risk the benefits of trade through the initiation of conflict; others have insisted that trade has no impact on international conflict; and yet others have argued that trade simply adds to the interstate competition that breeds conflict and war (Maoz 2009, pp. 224-226; Kim and Rousseau 2005).

Moreover, the divide has extended to the way in which students of have perceived historical and current events. Certain historical observers have vilified economic insulation and protectionist policies, such as import barriers, as causes of the 1930s conflicts that produced World War II—the implication being that economic interconnectedness could have prevented the cataclysm by promoting bonds of mutual interest and cooperation (Buzan 1984, p. 610). However, others have pointed to the occurrence of World War I as an indication that economic ties need not promote interstate peace, as a hitherto unprecedented degree of global trade preceded and failed to prevent that conflict (Ferguson 2005).

The concern about the relationship between trade and violent conflict is all the more relevant in the modern era of “.” Economic interconnectedness has increasingly become the norm, with insulation from it a remote exception. In the face of this international reality, a re-examination of the potential impact that these economic ties could have upon international security is more than an academic exercise—it is an endeavor with tremendous policymaking importance, as statesmen have used the prospect of fostering peace as justification for their trade and economic policies.1 This study’s goal is to contribute to the larger study of conflict in this regard. Ideally this research will raise implications and questions such that more scholars can make use of them as they make further breakthroughs in this realm.

International conflict can manifest itself in a number of ways such as “diplomatic protests, hostile propaganda statements, and the breaking of bilateral agreement” (Gasiorowski 1986, p. 25). But military disputes bring an entirely different level of hostility to international politics. It is for this reason that I focus on armed conflict in this paper; an empirical analysis of non-violent interstate conflict using this study’s theoretical framework must be saved for the future.

The goal of this research is to present a fresh conceptual model and statistical analysis through which the relationship between interstate economic ties and interstate military conflict can be examined, as my model differs from those of previous scholars in key ways. Most of the literature is focused on interdependence among specific countries. That is, dyadic pairings of interdependent partners have received the most attention, with conflict between them seen as a failure of interdependence to prevent it.2 However, direct conflicts with partner states are not the only means by which an aggressive state can “turn off” investors and trading partners. As Maoz (2009, pp. 225-226) notes, states should even be “reluctant to initiate conflict against enemies with whom they do not have direct trade ties because the uncertainty and instability associated with conflict may cause their trading partners to look for other markets” [emphasis mine]. Thus, I use aggression as a means to measure interstate conflict. This study analyzes the impact of a state’s total economic ties with the international system on the likelihood that it will exhibit aggression against any state, as states should fear provoking economic retribution from those states with which they do have direct trading ties. Other scholars have examined systemic rather than dyadic conflict, but they do not systematically analyze the relationship between economic interconnectedness and instances of monadic state aggression in general.3

Ultimately, I find support for the argument that economic ties are conducive to peace. My findings indicate that greater participation in world trade reduces states’ likelihood of aggression, but that greater openness to the inward and outward flow of capital increases state aggression. However, I also find that both types of economic ties tend to limit the scope of conflicts at the systemic level.

In this paper, I begin first by discussing three theoretical perspectives on international relations, their differing predictions for the relationship between economic interconnectedness and interstate conflict, and theoretical explanations that might explain their predictions. A discussion of how my model measures states’ economic connections and aggression, as well as a statistical analysis of the data on sampled countries then follow, along with a discussion of the findings and the conclusions that can be drawn from this study.

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