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Alternative international systems? System structure and violent conflict in nineteenth-century West Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia


Were precolonial state systems different to the European model? If so, how did these state systems vary, and do variations in system structure influence the frequency of war? In this article we assess the structure off international systems in nineteenth-century West Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia using new data on precolonial states that corrects for some of the biases in the existing Correlates of War state system membership data. We develop a framework to capture variation in political order above and below the state, and explore the similarities and differences between these systems and the European system we know and study. We then assess how rates of inter- and intra-state war varied across these systems. Our results suggest: (1) It is the nature of hierarchy (not so much anarchy) that varies across these systems; and (2) inter-state wars are more frequent, but less intense, in systems composed of decentralised states.

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A previous version of this article was presented at the 2013 ISA Conference in San Francisco. We acknowledge financial support from the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, and the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney. We thank Seva Gunitsky, Peter Katzenstein, Andrew Phillips, Jason Sharman, William Thompson, and several anonymous reviewers for their comments and assistance.

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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