Great Power Wars

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Joshua Goldstein:

"On the political level, the core experiences structural shifts over time, from greater hegemony (a hierarchical structure in which one nation is firmly on top) toward greater competition (a flatter hierarchy in which nations are vying for position). Ultimately, the position of nations in such a system has been decided by resort to war. In studying wars among the core countries, I rely on Levy's (1983a) quantitative data set on wars in the "great power system" since 1495 as well as his definitions of countries that belonged to that system (a membership that changes over time). "Great power wars" (wars between two or more great powers) have occurred sixty-four times between 1495 and 1975 according to Levy's count. These sixty-four wars are particularly important in this study. Although no country has yet exerted complete control in the sense of an embracing empire, a few countries have at times gained ascendancy within the core. At other times the structure of the core has not centered so strongly on one country, being more multipolar and competitive. A hegemonic power is a core state that commands an unrivaled position of economic and military superiority among the core states and is thus able largely to shape the operation of the international system. The position of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, of Great Britain in the nineteenth century, and of the United States in the mid-twentieth century are commonly cited as such cases. Other countries have made concerted' drives for world dominance but have failed (for example, Napoleon's France and Hitler's Germany). The economic and political processes of the core are closely intertwined. There is a strong historical connection between economic long waves and bouts of severe great power wars. And the struggle for hegemony is as much an economic as a political phenomenon. The strongest economic units can support the most powerful political and military capabilities and hence gain position in the world order. Conversely, political and military position are used to further a country's economic enrichment."

(Long Cycles, page 5)

More information

Source: Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. By Joshua S Goldstein.