Testing Dynamic Theories of Conflict: Power Cycles, Power Transitions, Foreign Policy Crises and Militarized Interstate Disputes

Explaining the causes of international strife is one of the most important problems in the social sciences. A wide range of theories have been created to account for conflict, crisis, and war that in some way relate to the dynamics of power. Two of the most prominent are Doran's power cycle and Organski's power transition. Each provides a useful framework within which to examine great power involvement in international conflict, crisis and war. The study unfolds in six sections. The first sets out the paper's agenda. The second section briefly describes modified versions of Doran's power cycle theory and Organski's power transition theory. The third presents hypotheses about the likely effects of the power cycle and power transition on crises and disputes. Fourth, measurements are developed for the crucial ingredients, meaning disputes, crises, critical points, and transitions in relative capabilities for the great powers. The fifth section uses MID and ICB data from 1816 to 1991 to test the hypotheses. Results are mixed for both theories and suggest that further work is needed in terms of the cases selected for application. Sixth, and finally, the findings are reviewed and some general comments concerning the future direction of research on power cycle and power transition theory are offered.