Volatile States in international politics

An in-depth account of why countries' treacherous foreign policies often have harmless origins, how this predicament shapes international politics, and what to do about it.


Volatile States in International Politics recasts canonical, timeless debates on how states’ behaviors change.

Conventionally, scholars explore changes that make states progressively more conflictual (escalation) or less conflictual (reconciliation) toward other states.

Volatile States in International Politics shows the limits of this practice. It demonstrates that states’ behaviors are instead often volatile, twisting and turning between cooperation and conflict in a way that appears inconsistent to their counterparts. Since observers cannot accurately predict what volatile states will do next, volatility often stifles trust and ignites conflict.

Leveraging statistical techniques and archival data in a probing analysis of rivals and allies since the end of World War II, this book rejects attempts at dismissing volatility as reflecting mercurial leaders or intractable issues. Instead, it explains, a state acts in a volatile manner when its clashing domestic interests leverage power to achieve their goals on the international arena.

Through real-life anecdotes and compelling data visualizations, this book explains where volatility comes from. Its findings renew key debates on the role of trust, escalation, reputation, audience costs, and treaty compliance in international politics.

Available on the OUP Website and on Amazon.

Check out my Duck of Minerva post on the book.


1. Introduction

2. Theory: When Does Volatility Increase?

3. Measuring Volatility

4. Volatility and Rivals

5. Volatility and Allies

6. Conclusions