Economic Interdependence and War

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Relying on both quantitative and qualitative research, Copeland explores what he terms "trade expectations theory," which centers on a key variable: "a state's expectations of the future trade and investment environment. If, however, those expectations are negative or seem to portend steep economic decline, they "will begin to view war as the rational lesser of two evils" 2 , fearing greater future vulnerability to attack or other coercion more than present armed conflict.

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In short, trade expectations theory combines "liberal theory's emphasis on the benefits from trade and investment with realism's concern for the potentially significant costs of adjustment that a state would face were it to be cut off after becoming dependent on such commerce" Copeland's quantitative analysis shows that, in thirty of his forty case studies, spanning the period —, "economic interdependence played a moderate to strong causal role in shaping the events" 93 , and that trade expectations theory is validated in twenty-six of those thirty cases. His qualitative inquiry extends over six chapters on a the Russo-Japanese War and German wars for hegemony — ; b Japan's machinations in the decades before Pearl Harbor —40 and c considerations of Russia and the onset of World War II in the Pacific ; d the origins, dynamics, and termination of the Cold War —91 ; e European power politics — ; and f European great power colonial rivalries — Copeland believes these studies confirm "that it is indeed the expectations variable that is doing the causal heavy lifting in the vast majority of case periods where economic interdependence is implicated in the outbreak of war or peace" In regard to this apparent influence of trade expectations on the likelihood of war, Copeland introduces the "trade-security dilemma, [which] involves the implications of actions that states take to improve the certainty of future access to resources, investments, and markets" Actions taken by state A to secure its trade and economic status may lead states B, C, and D to withhold trade lest state A gain too much power, become aggressive, and precipitate a "trade-security spiral" Finally, Copeland assesses the significance of his findings specifically for economic relations between the United States and China.

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He is optimistic that, so long as the Americans support open trade, the Chinese will eschew economic or other provocations. Today, however, President Donald Trump's administration is jeopardizing the fluidity of commerce between the two countries.

“Containment” and economic interdependence

Hence Copeland's analysis is acutely relevant to present-day conditions that may provoke military conflict. It must be noted that Copeland in fact puts forth no purely quantitative analyses. Theoretically Copeland brings a theory of trade expectation to overcome the problems with liberal and realist views on the dynamic between economic interdependence and war.

That is, the more trade interdependence, the less likelihood of war and conflicts.

When it comes to realists, this dynamics works with the reversed order. In realist logic, states are more interested in continuation of access to materials and goods when they engage in trade with others.


Therefore, in a realist world, higher interdependence increases the likelihood of war, rather than lowering it since interdependence generally means vulnerability and vulnerability in an anarchic international system facilitates as an incentive to initiate war. Theory of trade expectations is an amalgam of liberal commercial ties give actors large incentive to avoid war and realist the risks of being cut-off anytime push state making war to secure vital goods insights and based on a wide empirical data.

U.S.-India Economic Interdependence

Mehmetcik, H. Get PDF.