Fear and frustration : rising state perceptions of threats and opportunities
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Political Science.
Barry R. Posen.
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Do a dominant state's policies have a greater effect on a rising state's threat perceptions or its assessment of the dominant state's resolve? Existing theory, rooted in Jervis's spiral and deterrence models, contends that the answer depends on whether the state has status quo or revisionist intentions. Rising states are typically seen as revisionist, a type of state that is said to be easily emboldened by conciliation but not easily threatened by competition. This project, on the other hand, argues that rising states - even those with revisionist aims - are more easily threatened than emboldened. Anarchy and uncertainty surrounding the dominant state's intentions give all rising states incentive to be cautious in their assessments. Underestimating threats could leave a rising state more vulnerable to coercion or unprepared for war with a materially stronger dominant state. Rising states, therefore, increase their threat assessments in response to almost any kind of competition by the dominant state. The risks of underestimating the dominant state's resolve are also significant: a resolute dominant state might respond to a challenge with overwhelming force. Therefore, rising states only downgrade their assessments of the dominant state's resolve in the face of very strong signals, such as large, militarily useful concessions. This dissertation tests these competing arguments during periods when Britain was a dominant state facing a rising, revisionist power - the United States (1837-1846) and Wilhelmine Germany (1894-1898). Detailed, historical analysis identified each British policy change and assessed the impact on U.S. and German perceptions. The results suggest that existing theory overstates the risks of conciliating rising states and understates the impact that competition has on a rising state's threat perceptions. Rising states may be ambitious, but they do not lose sight of their material weakness, the threats they face, or the limits to what they might gain.
Thesis: Ph. D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science, 2015.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 236-258).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Political Science.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology