University of Cambridge > > Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars > From Integration to Confrontation: Economic Globalization, Power Convergence, and International Conflict

From Integration to Confrontation: Economic Globalization, Power Convergence, and International Conflict

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Deepening economic globalization between major powers has long been viewed as a force for international stability. The causal logic is appealing intuitively: states that are trading with and investing in each other stand to lose if that commerce is jeopardised by international conflict. Yet there are sound reasons for supposing that such deepening economic globalization can also shift the balance of power between major states, by causing follower economies – states that are not among the most developed in the international system – to grow faster than leading economies, and economic size and development are what underpin national material capabilities. Moreover, a rich body of international relations theory and an array of historical experience suggest that such shifts in the balance of power make interstate war more likely.

This lecture argues, therefore, that economic globalization can actually be a potent cause of major power security competition and ultimately war. A theoretical framework that unites economic theory on the differential growth impact of trade, financial flows, and technology diffusion with realist arguments on the conflict implications of polarity shifts and dynamic power differentials is constructed. It is then explored using evidence from three key historical epochs that, while different in their levels of economic modernity and the precise character of the international commerce, all share certain similarities: an expansion of trade and other factor flows, a consequential shift in the balance of material power, and subsequent strategic competition and military conflict. The three cases in question are the rise of the Dutch Republic during the 1581-1648 period (and its subsequent decline in the 1672-1795 period), the relative decline of the United Kingdom and the relative rise of other great powers between 1870 and 1914, and the differential growth rates and corresponding security tensions of 1945-89. Certain scope conditions and qualifications notwithstanding, the empirical evidence supports the theoretical framework. As such, the argument that deepening economic globalization raises the mutual cost of fighting and thereby makes conflict less likely is not directly refuted, but an important countervailing mechanism is found to be at work. Such a finding has important implications for the foundations of realist international relations theory, the debate over the security implications of contemporary globalization, and understandings of the causes and potential consequences of the rise of new great powers in the current era of declining Western dominance.

David Blagden will join Darwin as the Adrian Research Fellow in International Politics in October. His talk today is based on his DPhil dissertation, completed at University College, Oxford, which he has just submitted.

This talk is part of the Darwin College Humanities and Social Sciences Seminars series.

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