A field guide for the jungle: The empirics of state motivation

Anthony David Rodin, Purdue University


State motivation is an important variable for two realist theories in international relations: power transition theory and neoclassical realism. Along with capabilities, state motivations are used explain the emergence of great power conflict, as an unhappy and rising challenger seeks to usurp the international system created by the status quo power. Unfortunately, the two schools have failed to consistently and sufficiently operationalize this crucial variable. As a result, identifying the motivations of contemporary states is a difficult task. This study evaluates the validity of observables which can act as barometers of state motivation: regime type, ideology, concrete territorial demands, alliance patterns, military expenditure and military doctrine. These observables are evaluated against four historical case studies of rising states: The United States, Japan, Germany and Russia, between the 1860s and 1941. Findings indicate that revisionist states are more likely to have concrete territorial ambitions, expansionist ideologies and different regime types than the status quo powers. These findings help not just theory, but also aid in understanding contemporary states like China. However, the findings also highlight the need for power transition theory to address and more fully define and identify key terms.^




Keith Shimko, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political Science, International Relations

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