Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-zlj4b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-21T14:45:29.170Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

State Death in the International System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 May 2004

Tanisha M. Fazal
Tanisha M. Fazal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, New York. She can be reached at
Get access


Under what conditions do states die? Survival is often assumed to be the primary goal of states. Yet international relations scholars have not previously examined the rate or the causes of state death in a systematic way. I argue that buffer states—states caught between two rivals—are particularly vulnerable to being coerced out of existence. Each rival is afraid that its opponent will conquer the buffer that lies between them, gaining strength and strategic advantage. The rivals' inability to credibly commit to preserving the buffer state's sovereignty means that buffer states are extremely vulnerable to conquest. Using event history analysis, I test this argument while controlling for traditional realist variables such as power and alliances, as well as for changes in the post–World War II era. The analysis generates three major findings: buffer states are significantly more likely to die than are nonbuffer states; violent state death (conquest and occupation) virtually ceases after 1945; and the relationship between power and state survival is tenuous.For their valuable comments and suggestions, I thank James Fearon, Page Fortna, Erik Gartzke, Hein Goemans, Simon Jackman, Stephen Krasner, David Lewis, Scott Sagan, Erik Voeten, the editor of IO, two anonymous reviewers, as well as seminar participants at Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Virginia Law School. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2000 Annual Meetings of the International Studies Association and the American Political Science Association. Jessica Stanton provided valuable research assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. Any errors are my own.

Research Article
© 2004 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Adams, Karen Ruth. 2000. State Survival and State Death: International and Technological Contexts. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley.
Barkin, J. Samuel, and Bruce Cronin. 1994. The State and the Nation: Changing Norms and the Rules of Sovereignty in International Relations. International Organization 48 (1):10730.Google Scholar
Bartholemew, John, ed. 1955–59. The Times Atlas of the World, Vol. 3. London: Times Publishing.
Bartholemew, John, and Son, eds. 1998. The Times Atlas of the World, 9th ed. New York: Times Books.
Bean, Richard. 1973. War and the Birth of the Nation-State. Journal of Economic History 33 (1):20321.Google Scholar
Beck, Nathaniel, Jonathan Katz, and Richard Tucker. 1998. Taking Time Seriously: Time-Series Cross-Section Analysis with a Binary Dependent Variable. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4):126088.Google Scholar
Bennett, D. Scott. 1996. Security, Bargaining, and the End of Interstate Rivalry. International Studies Quarterly 40 (2):15783.Google Scholar
Bennett, D. Scott, and Allan Stam. 2000. EUGene: A Conceptual Manual. International Interactions 26:179204.Google Scholar
Bennett, Robert William, and Joseph Zitomersky. 1982. The Delimitation of International Diplomatic Systems, 1816–1970: The Correlates of War Project's Systems Reconsidered. In On Making Use of History: Research and Reflections from Lund, edited by Joseph Zitomersky, 67129. Lund, Sweden: Scandinavian University Books.
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M., and Bradford S. Jones. 1997. Time Is of the Essence: Event History Models in Political Science. American Journal of Political Science 41 (4):141461.Google Scholar
Bremer, Stuart A. 1992. Dangerous Dyads: Conditions Affecting the Likelihood of Interstate War, 1816–1965. Journal of Conflict Resolution 36 (2):30941.Google Scholar
Bremer, Stuart A., and Faten Ghosn. 2003. Defining States: Reconsiderations and Recommendations. Conflict Management and Peace Science 20 (1):2141.Google Scholar
Brooks, Stephen G. 1999. The Globalization of Production and the Changing Benefits of Conquest. Journal of Conflict Resolution 43 (5):64670.Google Scholar
Calder, Bruce J. 1984. The Impact of Intervention: The Dominican Republic During the U.S. Occupation of 1916–1924. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Chay, John, and Thomas E. Ross, eds. 1986. Buffer States in World Politics. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Copeland, Dale. 1996. Neorealism and the Myth of Bipolar Stability: Toward a New Dynamic Realist Theory of Major War. Security Studies 5 (3):2989.Google Scholar
Cussans, Thomas, et al., ed. 1998. The Times Atlas of European History. 2d ed. London: Times Books.
Diehl, Paul, and Gary Goertz. 2000. War and Peace in International Rivalry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Eversley, G. Shaw-Lefevre. 1915. The Partitions of Poland. London: Unwin.
Feaver, Peter D. 2000. Letter to the Editor. International Security 25 (1):16569.Google Scholar
Fuller, Stephen M., and Graham A. Cosmas. 1974. Marines in the Dominican Republic, 1916–1924. Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps.
Gartzke, Erik, and Michael W. Simon. 1999. Hot Hand: A Critical Analysis of Enduring Rivalries. Journal of Politics 61 (3):77798.Google Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian S., and Michael D. Ward. 1999. A Revised List of Independent States Since the Congress of Vienna. International Interactions 25 (4):393413.Google Scholar
Goertz, Gary, and Paul F. Diehl. 1992. The Empirical Importance of Enduring Rivalries. International Interactions 18 (1):15163.Google Scholar
Hopf, Ted. 1991. Polarity, the Offense-Defense Balance, and War. American Political Science Review 85 (2):47593.Google Scholar
Howes, Dustin Ellis. 2003. When States Choose to Die: Reassessing Assumptions About What States Want. International Studies Quarterly 47 (4):66992.Google Scholar
Jenkins, David B. 1986. The History of Afghanistan as a Buffer State. In Buffer States in World Politics, edited by John Chay and Thomas E. Ross, 17189. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1978. Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma. World Politics 30 (2):167214.Google Scholar
Kahler, Miles. 1999. Evolution, Choice, and International Change. In Strategic Choice and International Relations, edited by David A. Lake and Robert Powell, 16596. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Kaplan, Herbert H. 1962. The First Partition of Poland. New York: Columbia University Press.
Katz, Friedrich. 1981. The Secret War in Mexico: Europe, the United States, and the Mexican Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kaysen, Carl. 1990. Is War Obsolete? A Review Essay. International Security 14 (4):4264.Google Scholar
Kelsey, Carl. 1922. The American Intervention in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. C (189):113202.Google Scholar
King, Gary, and Langche Zeng. 2001. Logistic Regression in Rare Events Data. Political Analysis 9 (2):13763.Google Scholar
Krasner, Stephen D. 1991. Global Communications and National Power: Life on the Pareto Frontier. World Politics 43 (3):33666.Google Scholar
Krasner, Stephen D. 1999. Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Levy, Jack. 1983. War in the Modern Great Power System: 1495–1975. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Liberman, Peter. 1996. Does Conquest Pay? The Exploitation of Occupied Industrial Societies. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Lord, Robert H. 1925. The Third Partition of Poland. The Slavonic Review 3 (9):48198.Google Scholar
Lukowski, Jerzy. 1999. The Partitions of Poland: 1772, 1793, 1795. London; New York: Addison Wesley Longman.
Mackinder, Halford J. 1962. Democratic Ideals and Reality. New York: Norton.
McKeown, Timothy J. 1986. The Limitations of “Structural” Theories of Commercial Policy. International Organization 40 (1):4364.Google Scholar
Mearsheimer, John J. 1994. The False Promise of International Institutions. International Security 19 (3):549.Google Scholar
Mearsheimer, John J. 2001. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton.
Mitchell, Nancy. 1999. The Danger of Dreams: German and American Imperialism in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Muir, Ramsey, R. F. Treharne, and Harold Fullard, eds. 1963. Muir's Historical Atlas: Ancient, Medieval and Modern. London: George Philip and Son.
National Geographic Society. 1999. National Geographic Maps (CD-ROM). Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Palmer, R. R., ed. 1957. Rand McNally and Company Atlas of World History. Chicago: Rand, McNally and Company.
Partem, Michael Greenfield. 1983. The Buffer System in International Relations. The Journal of Conflict Resolution 27 (1):326.Google Scholar
Posen, Barry R. 1993. Nationalism, the Mass Army, and Military Power. International Security 18 (2):80124.Google Scholar
Ross, Thomas E. 1986. Buffer States: A Geographer's Perspective. In Buffer States in World Politics, edited by John Chay and Thomas E. Ross, 1128. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Schroeder, Paul W. 1994. The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shepherd, William R., ed. 1956. Historical Atlas, 8th ed. Pikesville, Md.: Colonial Offset.
Singer, J. David, Stuart Bremer, and John Stuckey. 1972. Capability Distribution, Uncertainty, and Major Power War, 1820–1965. In Peace, War, and Numbers, edited by Bruce M. Russett, 1948. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.
Singer, J. David, and Melvin Small. 1993. National Material Capabilities Data, 1816–1985. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research.
Small, Melvin, and J. David Singer. 1982. Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.
Spykman, Nicholas J. 1938. Geography and Foreign Policy, II. The American Political Science Review 32 (2):21336.Google Scholar
Spykman, Nicholas J., and Abbie A. Rollins. 1939. Geographic Objectives in Foreign Policy, I. The American Political Science Review 33 (3):391410.Google Scholar
Stinchcombe, Arthur L. 1965. Social Structure and Organizations. In Handbook of Organizations, edited by James G. March, 14293. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Strang, David. 1991. Anomaly and Commonplace in European Political Expansion: Realist and Institutional Accounts. International Organization 45 (2):14362.Google Scholar
Tilly, Charles. 1990. Coercion, Capital, and European States, 990–1990. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
Walt, Stephen M. 1987. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1986. Reflections on Theory of International Politics. In Neorealism and its Critics, edited by Robert O. Keohane, 32246. New York: Columbia University Press.
Welles, Sumner. 1928. Naboth's Vineyard: The Dominican Republic, 1844–1924. 2 vols. New York: Payson & Clarke.
Wendt, Alexander. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Yamaguchi, Kazuo. 1991. Event History Analysis. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.
Zacher, Mark W. 2001. The Territorial Integrity Norm: International Boundaries and the Use of Force. International Organization 55 (2):21550.Google Scholar
Zamoyski, Adam. 1992. The Last King of Poland. London: J. Cape.