Identifying and classifying complex interstate wars

Brandon Valeriano, John A. Vasquez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article takes a closer look at multiparty wars in the modern state system. Because wars are different, a classification system of interstate wars is useful for theoretical concerns and empirical testing. We label multiparty wars "complex" because we believe that the processes that bring them about are much more complicated and difficult to understand than dyadic wars. Complex wars are identified and classified on the basis of their size, the issue that gives rise to them, and whether they are preceded by certain behavioral processes. To see if the classification is empirically useful, a set of empirical expectations on which wars should differ is derived and employed to conduct a series of tests. It is found that dyadic wars are associated with different patterns from complex wars, and that within the set of complex wars, the larger wars differ from the smaller ones on several dimensions. It is also found that larger wars and wars over certain issues are likely to be preceded by different behavioral processes, especially in terms of the use of power politics practices. The classification breaks down each complex war into its component dyadic participants on a number of variables so that one can compare originating dyads with each joiner dyad to show how wars differ according to type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-582
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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