Issue Conflict Accumulation and the Dynamics of Strategic Rivalry

Although states at times contend over a single issue (such as territory), international rivals often contend over multiple issues simultaneously. Issue conflicts tend to accumulate among rivals due to the development of enemy images of the “other,” which causes states to view as threatening, behavior that was previously viewed as non-threatening. Once multiple issues are on the agenda, issues become linked as states begin to view the “other” as the main problem in settling all disagreements. Issue accumulation also increases the stakes of rivalry, which likely increases the probability that states will choose to bear the costs of engaging in militarized conflict seeking the settlement of issues in one’s favor. An examination of strategic rivals supports the expectations that issue conflict accumulation tends to increase the likelihood of militarized disputes and war. The results also reveal that some paths of issue accumulation, in which certain types of issues come under contention, tend to be more dangerous than others.