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Chapter 9

The Social Field
International Relations*

By R.J. Rummel

We need "variables which are capable of general treatment. " They are to be provided by a general framework defined as a set of interrelated questions, or, as it is sometimes called, a "box, " but, if I may say so, a flexible one, and one whose main role is to be put to use....
The most fruitful approach to building such a box is, as Quincy Wright has suggested, to consider the world as a field in which individuals, groups, nations, international organizations, and so on, compete, clash, and cooperate, rather than as a plan designed by God, by history, or by nature, or as an equilibrium, or an organization, or as a community: at any given moment the world might present certain aspects of one of the latter models, but never of all of them, whereas the idea of a field is always a more accurate approximation.
---- Hoffmann, 1960:179
Can that essential characteristic--the absence of a tribunal or police force, the right to resort to force, the plurality of autonomous centers of decision, the alternation and continual interplay between peace and war--serve as a basis for a scientific theory, even though it is obvious to the actors themselves and belongs to their own intuitive "sociology" or "political science?" Should not science substitute for everyday notions those concepts that science itself elaborates? It seems easy for me to answer that nothing prevents us from translating the preceding idea into a word or a formula more satisfactory to the "scientists.
---- Aron, 1967: 192

Volume 4

Expanded Contents | Figures | Tables


1. Perspective And Summary
2. International Relations
3. The International Actors
4. International Behavior Space-Time
5. International Expectations And Dispositions
6. International Actor And Situation
7. International Sociocultural Space-Time
8. Interests, Capabilities, And Wills
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative Dynamics Of International Conflict
14. Introduction To Propositions And Evidence On International Conflict
15. Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict
16. Causes And Conditions Of International Conflict And War
17. Ending Conflict And War: The Balance Of Powers
18. The International Conflict Helix
19. Theoretical And Empirical Conclusions On Conflict And War
20. Principles Of Peace And Conflict


15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
16A. On Causes of International Conflict
16B. Propositions and Their Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
16C. Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
17A. Propositions and Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of Ending International Conflict Behavior
18A. Descriptive Propositions on International Conflict
19A. Overall Evidence on 54 Social Field Propositions on International Conflict
19B. Primary Propositions on Social Conflict
I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations
II. Event Data: Bases of Empirical Conflict Analysis
III. Characteristics of Published Quantitative International Relations Studies

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


The international space-time is a field of relations. It is bounded by such components as wealth, power, politics, and culture, which reflect the interrelationships (covariation) among the international actors' attributes. The location of actors within this space-time depends on their relative attributes.1 And their motion in space time depends on their relative change in attributes.2 Moreover, itself imbedded in this space-time, international behavior is delimited by such components as transactions, negative behavior, and military violence, which locate actors by their mutual and relative behavior.

This international social field of relations is an analytic map. It reduces the complex and interwoven manifestations of international relations to a set of coordinates, a space, prominent orienting features, relative locations, and distances. Of course, a map does not capture all the rich variety of the real landscape. Its purpose and function is to reduce this reality to its essential relationships, to enable us to visualize relative and multiple distances.

This field of relations is dynamic. It reflects potentialities, dispositions, and powers;3 it delimits the possible, probable, and actual. Spread throughout this space-time is a common medium of meanings, values, and norms; of status and class. This medium is continuous; it is everywhere in international space-time. It is the international culture and society. All international actors are imbedded in it.

Seated in this medium are potential forces on international behavior. Meanings, values, norms, status and class carry forces that when activated influence behavior. Because this medium is continuous throughout international space-time, these forces exist as potentiality everywhere in space-time. And what determines which forces are potentials for an international actor are his international space-time locations. In other words, the poor versus the rich, the weak versus the powerful, the democratic versus the totalitarian, the democratic versus the authoritarian, the Catholic culture versus the non-Catholic, and so on, reflect lines of potential forces; the relative wealth, power, and other component-attributes between actors reflect what potential forces may actually be at work.

These forces are complex and multifold and are often dealt with in rich detail by historians and political scientists. Industrial development, armaments, ideology, size, public opinion, and so on, influence and affect foreign policies and behavior through interests, capabilities, wills, perceptions, and expectations, and these are the kinds of force potentials of which I write. Nonetheless, however complex, these forces exert their strength in a direction. Their principal potentiality lies along the distance vectors between actors. That is, the distance vectors between international actors in sociocultural space-time measure the potential forces affecting their behavior.4

This dynamic field is intentional. Seated in sociocultural space-time, directed along the distances between nations, these forces of nations stimulate an actor's needs for security, protectiveness, self-assertion, sex, curiosity, gregariousness, hunger, and perhaps pugnacity,5 and thus transform latent attitudes into living, empowered interests.

All international actors are people acting in some official (e.g., foreign minister) or personal capacity (e.g., a foreign student or tourist). All are intentionally directed, therefore. As do all people, each has a superordinate goal that organizes his personality and perception towards the future, towards maintaining and enhancing his self-esteem. Thus, I would argue that Secretary of State Kissinger's behavior fitted into a goal complex. His emphasis on arms control and building a net of agreements with the Soviet Union, to imbedding them in cooperative arrangements which he thought would give them a stake in détente, was part of this superordinate goal: preserve humanity from nuclear war. This goal had the highest moral weight for Kissinger and was thereby most closely connected to his self-sentiment.6

International behavior is most affected by these forces through what interests they actualize.7 International acts and actions (Section 4.1) are expressions of these interests, as are international practices--routines actor's have integrated into their structures of expectations. Thus, there is a congruence of interests and distances. That is, national interests lie along the distances between nations in wealth, power, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, Catholic culture, density, size, social conflict, import dependency, and diversity. And underlying international forces lie along these same distances.8

The international social field is thus relational, dynamic, and intentional. And in all these aspects it begets and shapes contemporary international society. It comprises the spontaneous interactions among actors, their free response to international forces, and their mutual balancing.9 It generates and shapes a spontaneous process. It produces the conflict helix.

But all this is abstract. What, concretely, is the nature of this field, and particularly the conflict helix? The next Section and Appendix 9A deal with the empirical field: the remainder of this book clarifies the empirical basis and aspects of the international conflict helix.


Within the international field actors behave towards others within situations defined by a structure of expectations or involving the balancing of powers--the process of readjustment of what actors want, can do, and will do in the formation of a new structure of expectations.

This behavior, as was described in Chapter 8, is a function of situational expectations and perceptions, behavioral dispositions and distance vectors. Now, the uppermost question is how do states manifestly behave? That is, what real content do the field equations have?

Appendix 9A provides the methodology and many systematic empirical findings answering this question. Here I can only mention a few of the most interesting empirical results.

  1. Across situations, actors most often and strongly perceive another state's power-related interests and capabilities as relevant to the possible outcomes of their behavior. Among the Big Powers this is especially true for the USSR. Among types of states, power is especially important for the poor, weak, totalitarian, or authoritarian. That is, in the international social field power is the primary force vector of behavior.

  2. Situations involving perceived power most often and strongly involve also the expectation associated with possible compulsory behavior, particularly for the nonpoor, powerful, and nonauthoritarian actors. Where a concrete situation involves perceived power-related interests, and capabilities, the primary disposition is towards conflict. That is, in the international social field power primarily is a force towards conflict behavior.

  3. Of all behavioral dispositions, an actor most often and highly expects desirable outcomes for his contractual behavior in terms of his perception of another's distance-related interests and capabilities. That is, in the international social field distance-forces most affect contractual behavior. This effect is especially strong for the USSR among Big Powers, and for wealthy, weak, or authoritarian actors in general.

  4. Of the distance-related interests and capabilities most situationally affecting the contractual disposition, those perceived along the political distance vector are the most potent. That is, in the international social field political distance is the force towards contractual behavior. This is especially true for China; among Big Powers; and middle wealthy, or liberal democratic actors.

  5. Across situations, an actor's expectation of possible military conflict behavior is least influenced by his perceptions of distance-related interests and capabilities. That is, in the international social field military dispositions are most subject to unique influences and will. This is due to military conflict behavior being a subphase in the process of conflict (Chapters 15 and 16).

  6. Across situations, physical distances (demographic; geographic) have less effect on actors then perceived interests and capabilities associated with sociocultural distance vectors. That is, in the international social field meanings, values, norms, status, and class most affect behavior.

  7. While political distance is the most potent force affecting contractual relations, across situations perceived wealth related interests and capabilities also are often and highly related to the actor's expectation of contractual behavior, especially for the USSR among Big Powers, and for poor, or middle powerful states. That is, in the international social field wealth is a secondary force towards contractual behavior.

  8. The most often occurring situational linkage is between perceived power-related interests and capabilities and the expectation of possible contractual behavior; the highest situational linkages, however, are between perceived power-related interests and capabilities, and the expectation of possible compulsory behavior. That is, in the international social field the most common effect is of power on contractual behavior; the greatest effect is of power on conflict behavior.

  9. The most likely situation for actors is one in which an actor expects that an object's perceived, relative political-related interests and capabilities will lead to desirable outcomes for the actor's contractual behavior towards it. That is, in the international social field the most probable situation is political and this is a force towards contractual behavior.

  10. The second most likely situation for actors is one in which an actor expects that an object's perceived relative power-related interests and capabilities will lead to desirable outcomes for the actor's familistic and contractual behavior towards it. That is, in the international social field the second most probable situation is one in which the power is a force towards familistic and contractual behavior.

  11. Finally, the third most likely situation for actor's is one in which an actor expects that an object's perceived geographic closeness implies desirable outcomes for the actor's cooperation or conflict behavior towards it. That is, in the international social field the third most probable situation is one in which the geographic distance between actors affects their behavior towards each other.

In sum, the most potent international social field force is power, which mainly affects conflict. However, forces generally most affect contractual behavior; least affected is military action. Wealth (or a rich-poor gap) is less important than political and power forces, but what influence it does have is on contractual behavior.

And the most probable situation in the international social field is one in which political distance is a force towards contractual behavior--international organization, diplomatic relationships, trade, alliances, and the like.

Such is actual, empirical, international relations--the international social field. Now, I can shift my focus to the major concern of this book. The process, causes, conditions, and termination of conflict, and particularly violence and war, within the field. This is the task of the following chapters.


* Scanned from Chapter 9 in R.J. Rummel, War, Power, Peace, 1979. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. Operationally this means that everything in the international social field is measured relative to all else in the field, including attributes, components, positions, distances, forces, interests, cooperation, conflict behavior. There is no absolute point of reference. Even time is relative (Rummel, 1977: Chapter 8). Philosophically, this means that the international social field is a gestalt, a whole that is more than the sum of its parts and each part takes on greater meaning through its role in the whole. Mathematically, the field is determined through standardizing all data (which measures each datum relative to a mean and standard deviation), forming a matrix of cosines between all attributes (or behaviors) so transformed (which are equal to product-moment correlations [on product moment correlations as cosines, see Understanding Correlation]), and computing the eigenvectors of this matrix. Scaled by their eigenvalues, these are then the components of the international social field. Each component is then measured relative to all the others. On such components, which really are factors of a factor analysis, see "Understanding Factor Analysis".

2. For example, it is not the change in wealth or power itself which will alter the location of an actor relative to others, but the change in relative wealth or power. Thus, if two nations similarly increase their power, their relative positions in international space-time remains the same.

3. Here I mean power as a philosophical category, as the mode of transformation of dispositions to manifestation, such as the power of a thunderclap to be heard, or of nitroglycerin to explode. This category, along with that of potentiality, disposition and manifestation are elaborated in Chapter 8 of Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field.

4. The distance vector is the actor's score minus the potential object's score on a component (such as wealth), which creates a vector pointed towards the actor. That is, the forces bear upon the actor. This is consistent with my ontology of perception. What we perceive as distances and situation is a balance between the strength of these inward bearing forces toward a specific perception and our perspective straining outward towards manifesting a particular reality. See Part II of Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field.

5. All this and the following psychological discussion as been developed in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field, with references to the appropriate psychological studies. Although pugnacity has been uncovered as a need in psychological research, its reality is much less confirmed than the other needs mentioned. See Section 22.11 of Chapter 22 in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field.

6. Kissinger was clear about the nature and goals of his foreign policy. See, for example, his statement before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on September 19, 1974. This has been published in The Department of State Bulletin, Vol. LXXI (October 14, 1974).

7. Of course, for different actors the same forces (distances, say, in power) will not actualize the same interests. Interests reflect an actor's cultural matrix, learning and experience. For example, power parity between two neighboring states with opposing political beliefs may stimulate the insecurity or protectiveness needs in their elite. What interests are thereby energized, whether arms control, military superiority, or political détente, may differ between them. For each actor, therefore, similar situations will have different salience and weight distances differently. That is, each actor has his unique equation of international behavior. This perspective I have called Model II in my quantitative analyses. See Rummel (1977: particularly Sections 4.3, and 4.4).

8. This is not to say that these forces are the only ones relevant to international relations. Purely domestic forces (as those underlying a society's status quo) affect a nation's character, wealth, power, and politics, its location in international space-time. Moreover, domestic forces influence the weight to be given a particular situation. And then there is the force of will which is independent of distances, of domestic pressures, of environmental influences, of social causation. Aside from the will, all is latent disposition, interest and intentions, goals and means. The will is the mode of transformation into acts and actions. The will is the mental power to act in a specific way (Chapter 29 of Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field).

9. International relations constitutes an exchange, libertarian society in which actors can freely adjust to others in terms of their interests, capabilities, and expectations (Chapter 2). The emphasis here is on this type of international society. For were international relations coercively directed, as say in world domination by one elite, then the society would be an international social antifield. Forces toward behavior congruent with distances would then be blocked by the forces of elite control. That is, international relations would be a coercive organization. See Chapter 22 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix for an analysis of antifields relevant here.

For citations see the Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace REFERENCES

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