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Polarity, the Long Cycle, and Global Power Warfare

William R. Thompson
The Journal of Conflict Resolution
Vol. 30, No. 4 (Dec., 1986), pp. 587-615
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/174077
Page Count: 29
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Polarity, the Long Cycle, and Global Power Warfare
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Abstract

The basic assumptions associated with two approaches to analyzing the relationship between the distribution of capabilities and war, namely Waltz's analysis of systemic stability and Modelski's long cycle of global leadership, are examined and contrasted. The systemic stability model concludes that bipolarity is less likely to be associated with destabilizing warfare than is multipolarity. The long cycle model agrees that multipolarity is the least stable arrangement but it depicts unipolarity as the most stable and least conflictual phase in the system's cyclical concentration/ deconcentration process. These arguments are tested empirically by first operationalizing polarity and warfare between global powers for 490 years (1494-1983) and then determining how much warfare is associated with each type of polarity. Aggregating across the entire period, global warfare has been least likely in years of unipolarity and near unipolarity, slightly more prevalent in bipolar years, and much more probable in multipolar contexts. Disaggregating time, however, indicates that bipolarity, in certain periods, can be as destabilizing as multipolarity.

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