Nuclear War in the Rivalry Phase of the Modern World-System

Robert A. Denemark


Large-scale war is a world-system phenomenon of the rivalry phase. Such conflicts have once again become a concern, and nuclear weapons make these prospects especially dangerous. This is particularly problematic since several world-systems perspectives suggest the chances for war will be greatest in the period from 2030 to 2050. I review the logic of rivalry, the reasons for the endurance of nuclear weapons, old and new nuclear strategies, and the processes that may pose the greatest existential dangers. Chase-Dunn and Podobnik (1995) identified processes that militate both in favor of and in opposition to nuclear war, and I pay particular attention to the way in which world-systems developments that increase the likelihood of major war have persisted, while those that retard the chances for major war have diminished. These dangers suggest that it may be time to turn some of our attention to the dynamics of systemic war and nuclear weapons.


Hegemony/Rivalry; Nuclear Weapons

Full Text:




Archer, Candace. 2004. “Hegemony and Las Vegas.” International Studies Perspectives, 5(2): Inside Back Cover.

Arrighi, Giovanni. 1994. The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times. London: Verso.

Bergesen, Albert. 2011. “Frankian Triangles.” Pp. 25-40 in Andre Gunder Frank and Global Development, edited by P. Manning and B. Gills. London: Routledge.

Boswell, Terry, Mike Sweat and John Brueggmann. 1989. "War in the Core of the World-System: Testing the Goldstein Thesis." Pp. 9 – 22 in War in the World-System, edited by R. Schaefer. New York: Greenwood Press.

Brodie, Bernard. 1959. "The Anatomy of Deterrence." World Politics 11(2): 173-91.

Carr, E. H. 1939. The Twenty Years' Crisis: 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations. London: Macmillan.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and Bruce Podobnik. 1995. "The Next World War: World-System Cycles and Trends." Journal of World-Systems Research 1(6): 317-348.

Chase-Dunn, Christopher and Richard Rubinson. 1977. "Toward a Structural Perspective on the World-System." Politics and Society 7: 453-76.

Commission on Presidential Debates. Retrieved August 11, 2017


Deutsch, Karl and J. David Singer. 1964. "Multipolar Power Systems and International Stability.” World Politics 16(3): 390-406.

Fausett, Elisabeth and Thomas Volgy. 2010. “Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and Interstate Conflict: Parsing Out IGO Effects for Alternative Dimensions of Conflict in Postcommunist Space.” International Studies Quarterly 54(1): 79-101.

Frank, Andre Gunder. 2014. ReOrienting the 19th Century, edited and with an introduction by Robert A. Denemark. Boulder: Paradigm.

Goldstein, Joshua. 1988. Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gilpin, Robert. 1981. War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hadden, G. 2012. “Palomares bombs: Spain waits for US to finish nuclear clean-up.” The World. Retrieved August 11, 2017. (, 22).

Ikenberry, G. John. 2001. After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Reestraint, and the Rebuilding of Order After Major Wars. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Intriligator, Michael, and Dagobert Brito. 1984. "Can Arms Races Lead to the Outbreak of War?" Journal of Conflict Resolution 28(1): 63-84.

Jervis, Robert. 1979. “Deterrence Theory Revisited.” World Politics 31(2):289-324.

Karataşlı, Şahan Savaş. 2017. “The Capitalist World-Economy in the Longue Durée: Changing Modes of the Global Distribution of Wealth, 1500–2008,” Sociology of Development 3(2):163-96.

Karataşlı, Şahan Savaş and Şefika Kumral. 2017. “Great Convergence or the Third Great Divergence? Changes in the Global Distribution of Wealth, 1500–2008.” In The World-system as Unit of Analysis: Past Contributions and Future Advances, edited by P. Korzeniewicz. New York and London: Routledge.

Keohane, Robert and Joseph Nye. 1977. Power and Interdependence. Boston: Little, Brown.

Kimball, Daryl. 2004. “Looking Back: The Nuclear Arms Control Legacy of Ronald Reagan.” Retrieved August 11, 2017. (

Krasner, Stephen. 1976. "State Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade," World Politics 28(3): 317-47.

Lawton, Thomas, James Rosenau and Any Verdun eds. 2000. Strange Power: Shaping the parameters of international relations and international political economy. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Layne, Christopher. 2012. “This Time It’s Real: The End of Unipolarity and the Pax Americana.” International Studies Quarterly 56(1): 203–213.

List, Friedrich. 1885. The National System of Political Economy. London, Longmans, Green.

Mayer, Jane. 2016. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. New York: Doubleday.

Modelski, George and William R. Thompson. 1996. Leading Sectors and World Powers: The Co-Evolution of Global Politics and Economics. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Murphy, Craig. 1994. International Organization and Industrial Change. New York: Oxford University Press.

Nunn, Alex. 2016. “The production and reproduction of inequality in times of austerity.” British Politics, 11(4):469–487.

Nunn, Alex. 2015. “Saving World Market Society from itself? The New Global Politics of Inequality and the agents of global capitalism.” Spectrum: Journal of Global Studies, 7(2): 68-88.

Olson, Mancur. 1982. The Rise and Decline of Nations. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Paul, TV, Patrick Morgan and James Wirtz eds. 2009. Complex Deterrence: Strategy in the Global Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pollians, Brian. 1996. “Global Political Order, Economic Change, and Armed Conflict: Coevolving Systems and the Use of Force.” American Political Science Review 90(1): 103-17.

Pouliot, Vincent. 2016. International Pecking Orders: The Politics and Practice of Multilateral Diplomacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rasler, Karen and William R. Thompson 2010. “Systemic Theories of Conflict.” Pp. 6670-6687 in The International Studies Encyclopedia, edited by Robert A. Denemark. Oxford: Blackwell.

Rogowski, Ronald. 1989. Commerce and Coalitions. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ruggie, John Gx. 1982. "International Regimes, Transactions, and Change: Embedded Liberalism in the Postwar Economic Order." International Organization 36(2): 379-415.

Reuveny, Rafael, and William R. Thompson. 2009. Growth, Trade, and Systemic Leadership. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Schattschneider, E.E. 1935. Politics, pressures and the tariff. New York: Prentice Hall.

Schelling, Thomas. 1966. Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Suter, Christian and Albert Bergesen eds. The Return of Geopolitics. Berlin: LitVerlag. Forthcoming.

Tiwari, Jaya and Cleve Gray. nd. “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Accidents.” Retrieved August 16, 2017. ( Center for Defense Information.

Vasquez, John. 2009. "Whether and How Global Leadership Transitions Will Result in War: Some Long-Term Predictions from the Steps-to-War Explanation." Pp. 101-135 in Systemic Transitions, edited by W. R. Thompson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1983. “The Three Instances of Hegemony in the History of the Capitalist World-Economy.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 24(1-2): 100-8.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1989. “The Capitalist World-Economy: Middle-Run Prospects.” Pp. 123-136 in Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Modern World-System, edited by I. Wallerstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Waltz, Kenneth. 1964. "The Stability of a Bipolar World.” Daedalus 93(3): 881-909.

Wilkinson, David. 1999. "Unipolarity without Hegemony." International Studies Review 1(2): 141-172.

Willrich, Mason and Theodore Taylor. 1974. Nuclear Theft: Risks and Safeguards. Cambridge: Ballinger.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2018 Robert Denemark

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.