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Major Powers and Militarized Conflict

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Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


This article attempts to answer the question of why major powers engage in more active foreign policy behaviors than minor powers. It does so by comparing two explanations for the increased conflict propensity of major powers. The first explanation focuses on major powers’ observable capabilities, while the second stresses their different behavior. We incorporate both into an ultimatum model of conflict in which a state’s cost of conflict consists of both observable and behavioral components. Using data from the period from 1870 to 2001, we empirically illustrate the observable and behavioral differences between major and minor powers. We then utilize a decomposition model to assess the relative significance of the two explanations. The results suggest that most of the difference in conflict propensity between major and minor powers can be attributed to observable differences.