The escalation of great power militarized disputes: Testing rational deterrence theory and structural realism

Paul Huth, Christopher Gelpi, D. Scott Bennett

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Realism has been the dominant paradigm in the study of international conflict. Within this paradigm, two leading alternative approaches have been deterrence theory and structural realism. We test the relative explanatory power of these two theoretical approaches on the escalation of deterrence encounters among great powers from 1816 to 1984. We derive a set of hypotheses from each model, operationalize them for systematic empirical analysis, and test the hypotheses on 97 cases of great-power deterrence encounters by means of probit analysis. The results are that the hypotheses derived from deterrence theory receive considerable support, whereas none of the hypotheses derived from structural realism are supported.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)609-623
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1993


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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