Economic Stress and International Cooperation: Evidence from International Rivalries

32 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2015 Last revised: 30 Apr 2015

See all articles by Christopher Clary

Christopher Clary

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: April 22, 2015


Do economic downturns generate pressure for diversionary conflict? Or might downturns encourage austerity and economizing behavior in foreign policy? This paper provides new evidence that economic stress is associated with conciliatory policies between strategic rivals. For states that view each other as military threats, the biggest step possible toward bilateral cooperation is to terminate the rivalry by taking political steps to manage the competition. Drawing on data from 109 distinct rival dyads since 1950, 67 of which terminated, the evidence suggests rivalries were approximately twice as likely to terminate during economic downturns than they were during periods of economic normalcy. This is true controlling for all of the main alternative explanations for peaceful relations between foes (democratic status, nuclear weapons possession, capability imbalance, common enemies, and international systemic changes), as well as many other possible confounding variables. This research questions existing theories claiming that economic downturns are associated with diversionary war, and instead argues that in certain circumstances peace may result from economic troubles.

Keywords: Diversionary war, rivalry, peace studies, conflict resolution

Suggested Citation

Clary, Christopher, Economic Stress and International Cooperation: Evidence from International Rivalries (April 22, 2015). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2015-8. Available at SSRN: or

Christopher Clary (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics