The Congress of Berlin by Anton Werner

Research II: The 1715-1815 Militarized Interstate Dispute Data Project

My second major project is a Data-set on Militarized Interstate Disputes in the 1715-1815 period of the history of international relations, starting from the European system.

Introduction and goal of the project

The goal of this project is to compile a dataset of Militarized Interstate Disputes (MIDs) from 1715 to 1815. Militarized Interstate Disputes, the use of military force between two states to manage an issue and from which most wars originate are still prevalent in the modern international system. Yet this is a system that is seen as increasingly pacific as interstate warfare has become a rarity. Why are MIDs not becoming wars as often as they did in the past? My argument is that this is due to the transformation of international politics from war-inducing, creating the conditions that increase the chance of war, to peace-inducing, creating conditions that decrease the chance of war. This is an old argument in the history of international relations but one whose exploration has been hampered by the lack of data on militarized interstate disputes in the period before 1816.  This creates a problem because one of the most important thesis about the transformation of international politics, that of Paul Schroeder as detailed in the book “The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848" cannot be evaluated without data on the system before 1816, the transformation point (1994). While there is data to evaluate the conflict behavior of states in the transformed system, there is no such data for before the transformation. As a result one cannot evaluate the transformation thesis on its entirety and adjudicate between the competing explanations for our relatively speaking more pacific world.

My dataset seeks to rectify this problem. Not only does it promise to help in the exploration of the question of the pacific evolution of the international system, but it has the potential of bringing about a reassessment of our extant understanding of conflict processes, the evolution of international politics, and the history of the international system. It will also lead to the discovery of novel facts about the 18th century international political system. This is the first data project that seeks to compile information about all the militarized interstate disputes, as opposed to just wars for the pre-1816 period. It also is one of the few efforts to contain information on the military disputes of minor powers, as well as major powers. Essentially the goal is to produce something similar to the Correlates of War Dataset for the 1715-1815 period.

How does this project fit with my long-term research interests?

The 1715-1815 MID data project is part of my broader research interest on the role of the major powers in the ongoing transformation of international politics from a system of relations once dominated by military force, to one were military force has been relegated to a secondary role. Taking my cue from Schroeder’s argument, I start from the change brought about by the Napoleonic Wars on the major powers governmental elite’s attitudes towards war. In my dissertation I provide a way to measure how collective major power behavior varies in the intensity of the antagonism or managerial coordination pursued by them in the form of the Scale of Major Power Coordination Intensity. I argue that managerial coordination, the engagement of major powers in policies of consultation, multilateralism and avoidance of antagonistic alliances, was a result of that transformation of attitudes and in turn has had a pacific effect on international relations.  This permitted me to capture an element of the transformation thesis in a form amenable to quantitative use.

The dissertation focused on the association between increasingly managerial coordination between the major powers and international phenomena tied to interstate conflict or the pacification of the international system. The findings in the 1816-2001 period supported the expectation of a positive association between major power managerial coordination and peace. However without some kind of exploration of the dynamics of peace and war and major power behavior in the period before 1816, these findings could not be considered supportive of the transformation thesis.  From this necessity began this 1715-1815 MID data project.

Previous Work and its inadequacies

Past political science research into military conflict for the 1715-1816 focused on using the era as part of large scale broad treatments of trends in interstate warfare. Such is the work of Kalevi Holsti (1991), Jack S. Levy (1983), Evan Luard (1986), and Manus Mildarksi (1988). What is common to these works is a focus on primarily major power conflicts, and exclusively wars. Indeed they many times share listings of wars and information upon them.  Even when these studies venture beyond major power wars their coverage was uneven. For example, Holsti working of Luard’s lists does not list Spain as a combatant in the War of Austrian Succession, even though Spain was a major member of the conflict (1991:85).

 Many times there are no clear criteria for the conflict included or excluded. One of the few compilations of military conflict that covers the 18th century is Gaston Bouthoul’s and Rene Carrere’s 1740-1976 list (1978). The list contains both European and non-European wars. However, it does not contain any information about specific participants for multilateral wars. It also does not disaggregate war systems into their component wars. As an example the war of Austrian Succession saw two Austro-Prussian wars within it. Without disaggregating war systems it is hard to see how conflicts linkages work. Finally even though the authors include some domestic and intestate conflicts that fall below the casualty threshold of war they leave others out. Thus the Revolt of the Belgian Netherlands in 1788 is included, which only indirectly had an interstate element, while the Patriot’s Revolt in the Netherlands, that led to a direct Prussian military intervention is excluded. No justification for this choice can be found in the criteria for the lists (Bouthoul & Carrere, 1978:83). The problems of such works pass on to later works that used them as part of their bibliography, an example of which is the Conflict Catalog (Brecke, 1999)

The above discussion should not be seen as dismissive of the work and findings of the scholars mentioned. The lists and evaluations they conducted based on these lists had important findings to offer political science, especially on the relation of war to major power status, alliances, and the evolution of the issues over which states fight. That said, the findings are limited because of the focus on war and major powers.  There is precious little we can learn from the extant literature on the dynamics of conflict escalation to war, the relationship between alliances, issues and conflict propensity in the 18th century, or the paths to war for the states of the era.

One can understand why these limits existed. Most of the lists and compilations were conducted in the 1970-1990 era, when many political scientists were interested in grand theory and long-range change of the international system. Indeed Levy’s and Midlarski’s work were part of projects conducting such long-term evaluations. Sources for military conflicts that were not wars were hard to find for the 19th century, let alone the 18th century before the rise of the internet. Most of the lists relied on dictionaries of war like those of Dupay and Dupay (1986), or annals of history like that of Langer (1972), that tended to exclude or miss military conflicts below the level of war.  Also most of these projects pre-date Bremer’s revolutionary study that led to the focus on dyadic military interaction, and the focus on militarized interstate disputes as opposed to just wars, lacking thus a theoretical reason for valuing information about conflicts beyond wars (Bremer, 1992; Jones, Bremer & Singer, 1996).

We now know that it is important to evaluate not just wars, but the military conflicts that precede and sometimes give birth to them.  This is key for understanding how states avoid war, and in turn of how states avoid military conflict in total. The past literature sought to tell a long-term story of who fights wars, and under what conditions. Now for the post-1815 era we tell a story of who uses military force against whom, when does it reach the level of war, and under what conditions states not only avoid war, but any level of military conflict. It is time to extend these inquiries to the birth of the modern interstate system.   The interest of political scientists in the connections between the 18th century and our modern era has not been abated as evidenced by a large slew of work over the last ten years that includes it in its temporal domain (Thompson and Dreyer, 2012;; Ringmar, 2012; Cederman, Warren & Sornette, 2011; Levy and Thompson, 2010; Young and Levy, 2010; Colaresi, 2001; Thompson (ed), 1999). Consequently a dataset with militarized interstate disputes for the 1715-1815 period will be of interest to scholars currently engaged in research.  In the next part I explain why such a project is feasible now.

What will the dataset include?

a) A dataset of militarized interstate disputes in the 1715-1815 period with versions at the dyad-year and dispute levels of analysis

b) A dataset on national military capabilities in the 1715-1815 period.

c) A dataset on 1715-1815 alliances based on the work of Douglas Gibler (2010)

The dataset will contain information on participants of each dispute dyad, duration, hostility level of the most intense military action taken by each participant, range of casualties caused by the activity, whether the dispute was a war, whether the disputants were initiators or joiners to a previously initiated dispute, whether each disputant was a major power, information on the  issues that are associated with the dispute, information about the rivalry status of the disputants, information about the way the dispute was resolved ,and a measure of relative military capabilities. The dataset will be merged with Douglas Gibler’s  list of alliances for the 1648-1815 period (2010), permitting us to also have information about the alliance portfolio of the disputants. 

Accompanying the dataset will be a narratives document that will contain a brief description of the disputes, their historical context, and justification for any coding decisions for that dispute. This is similar to the incident narratives for the Correlates of War MID dataset. They provide sources for possible future incidents project, increase reliability and permit scholars to corroborate our sources. Each description will also list the specific sources used to code the dispute, with information on the exact page umbers from the source that refer to the dispute. It will list sources for the general narrative, as well as specific sources for information on casualties and military capabilities.