Leading Nations and Local Conflicts: Global Powers, Regional Power Shifts, and Outside Intervention

Montgomery, Evan Braden, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Owen, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines an unexplored issue in the international relations literature: how do leading global powers respond to changes in the distribution of capabilities between minor powers in peripheral regions? In particular, do they accommodate or oppose rising regional powers? Historically, leading powers have adopted a variety of responses when local power shifts have occurred, accepting changes to the status quo in some instances and resisting them in others, intervening in certain regional conflicts while foregoing direct involvement in others, and accommodating some rising powers while opposing others. I argue that the interaction between two factors provides an answer to these questions and explains this considerable variation: the type of local order that a leading power prefers and the type of power shift that it believes is taking place. Depending on its overriding interests in a particular area-which can include containing an expansionist major power rival, ensuring unfettered access to a region and its resources, or avoiding conflicts that fuel local instability-a leading power may choose to either support a preponderant regional power or preserve a regional balance of power. Alternatively, in some cases it may be ambivalent between these two options. When a local power shift occurs, a leading power must therefore determine whether the changes that are under way appear likely to reinforce, establish, or undermine its preferred local order, and thus whether they will ultimately help or harm its local interests. Toward this end, policymakers will assess two distinct aspects of the changing distribution of capabilities to determine whether they should accommodate or oppose a iii rising regional power: the scope of the power shift, the direction of the power shift, or both. I assess this theory by employing a wide range of plausibility probes and qualitative case studies, including English and Dutch policy toward Sweden from 1655 until 1660, British policy toward Egypt from 1831 until 1841, British policy toward the Confederacy from 1861 until 1862, British policy toward Japan from 1894 until 1902, American policy toward India from 1962 until 1965 and again in 1971, and American policy toward Iraq from 1980 until 1991.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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