Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon C. Prins

Committee Members

Ian Down, Nathan Kelly, Wonjae Hwang, Carl Pierce


This dissertation examines rivalry linkages—ties such as alliances or shared disputes which connect different international rivalries to one another. Drawing on steps-to-war theory, I argue that many rivalry linkages form as a result of the coercive, “power politics” strategies that rivals often employ in their dealings with one another. These strategies encourage states to attempt to gain advantages over their rivals by pursuing alliance partners or by inviting third parties to intervene in their disputes. Consequently, when rivalries employ these strategies, they tend to establish linkages between their rivalry and others. I also argue that the accumulation of rivalry linkages has several important effects on rivalry dynamics. First, linkages provide an avenue for diffusion of conflicts across rivalries, making it more likely that rivalries will “catch” others’ disputes and that their disputes will be joined by third parties. Second, the presence of rivalry linkages also complicates diplomatic negotiations and makes it more difficult for rivals to resolve their disputes peacefully.

I test some of the implications of my theory in three empirical chapters. The first chapter examines the causes of rivalry linkage. Consistent with the argument, I find that states involved in rivalry were significantly more likely to form alliances and join in disputes with other states that were also involved in rivalries. These kinds of linkages are especially likely to form between rivalries which shared common enemies. In the second chapter, I explore the effects of rivalry linkages on the risk of militarized disputes and war between rivals. Using bivariate probit models, I find that rivalries with larger numbers of linkages are more likely to experience militarized disputes and that these disputes are more likely to be joined by other states and to escalate to war. The third chapter assesses the impact on de-linking on rivalry duration. Here, I find that t rivalries which accumulate larger numbers of linkages tend to last longer and the severing of rivalry linkages (or de-linking) significantly shortens rivalry. Together these findings suggest that linkages have important effects on rivalry dynamics, and that they deserve greater attention from scholars and policymakers.

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