International Organization


War and strong states, peace and weak states?

Michael C. Descha1

a1 Assistant Director and Senior Research Associate at the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Assistant Professor (on leave) in the Department of Political Science, University of California, Riverside.


For most of the twentieth century, international politics were dominated by World Wars I and II and by the cold war. This period of intense international security competition clearly strengthened states, increasing their scope and cohesion. However, the end of the cold war may represent a “threat trough”—a period of significantly reduced international security competition. If so, the scope and cohesion of many states may likewise change. Although this change will not be so great as to end the state or the states system, the state as we know it surely will change. Some states will disintegrate, many will cease growing in scope and may even shrink a little, and few will remain unaffected.