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POWER POSITIONS: INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, SOCIAL NETWORKS, AND CONFLICT
Author(s): Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Alexander H. Montgomery
A growing number of international relations scholars argue that intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) promote peace. Existing approaches emphasize IGO membership as an important causal attribute of individual states, much like economic development and regime type. The authors use social network analysis to show that IGO memberships also create a disparate distribution of social power, significantly shaping conflicts between states. Membership partitions states into structurally equivalent clusters and establishes hierarchies of prestige in the international system. These relative positions promote common beliefs and alter the distribution of social power, making certain policy strategies more practical or rational. The authors introduce new IGO relational data and explore the empirical merits of their approach during the period from 1885 to 1992. They demonstrate that conflict is increased by the presence of many other states in structurally equivalent clusters, while large prestige disparities and in-group favoritism decrease it.
Keywords: social network; militarized international dispute (MID); interstate conflict; democratic peace; international governmental organization (IGO)
International governmental organizations (IGOs) promote peace and cooperation among member states; so say a growing number of international relations scholars. Over the past thirty years, researchers have devoted substantial resources to analyzing the liberal proposition that IGOs offer states important pacific benefits, reducing military conflict between members by creating an interdependent world context of mutual self-interest and understanding. Like trade and democracy, membership in IGOs has come to be conceptualized as an important state attribute: as a characteristic that governments possess by joining IGOs, which, in turn, affects their foreign policy behaviors.
This article brings a new analytic perspective to the debate. We agree with the liberal premise that IGOs influence states' conflict propensities. However, our aim is to show that IGOs are more than attributes of individual states that place institutional constraints on members' military ambitions. IGOs also create empirically identifiable social networks that help to define the conditions under which acts of aggression or cooperation can be rational strategies of action in international relations. It is our core contention that interstate military aggression is not simply a result of bargaining failure but is suppressed or encouraged by the relative positions states occupy in the larger network of IGOs, which promote common beliefs and alter the distribution of social power.
Our analytic approach is different from the liberal argument in several respects. Like many structural realists, we locate sources of conflict in emergent relations between states that materialize within an international environment of power politics rather than from state attributes alone. We also recognize that IGOs are vehicles for power politics that often create conflict-producing rather than peace-making incentives. Like the relative material positions that encourage balancing or bandwagoning behavior, these social structural positions held by states are emergent properties of the international system that influence foreign policy behaviors. They operate on a level of analysis separate from the state attributes, dyadic properties, or systemic qualities typically used to explain conflict. However, our approach also breaks with the structural realist perspective;1 we argue that IGOs have causal importance independent of state interests, emphasize that power is endowed not only by material positions but also by social structural positions, and posit that the common beliefs created by these positions significantly affect conflict.
We divide our argument into four parts. First, we review the existing theoretical and empirical literature predicting the effects of IGO membership on international conflict, identifying two core omissions. Few studies hypothesize the effect of social net works created by IGO membership patterns on conflict between states; none offer the empirical tools to systematically analyze these network effects. Second, we introduce a new analytical approach to the problem and discuss how different types of social positions within the network structure are likely to influence state conflict in the international system. In the third section, we introduce new IGO relational data and explore the empirical merits of our approach during the period from 1885 to 1992, demonstrating that conflict is increased by the presence of many other states in structurally equivalent clusters, while large prestige disparities and in-group favoritism decrease it. We conclude by drawing implications for future research on social networks, IGOs, and conflict in the international system. 1. While we break with the materialism of Waltz (1979), Waltz's emphasis on material power is not an intrinsic feature of his theory; our addition of social power positions is therefore a compatible addition to a realist approach (Goddard and Nexon 2005).
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