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

War and Change in World Politics Book Cover War and Change in World Politics
Robert Gilpin
Cambridge University Press
October 30, 1981

The last ten years have seen the relatively stable postwar international system enter a period of uncertain, and possibly explosive, political change. Given the far-reaching shifts in the international distribution of power, the startling rise of new social economic political forces, and the global realignment of diplomatic relations, it is more important than ever to understand the dynamics of the international system.

War and Change in World Politics introduces the reader to an important new theory of international political change – a conceptual framework that could transform the way we think about international relations. Arguing that the fundamental nature of international relations has not changed over the millennia, Professor Gilpin uses history, sociology, and economic theory to identify the forces causing change in the world order. The discussion focuses on the differential growth of power in the international system and the result of this unevenness. A shift in the balance of power – economic or military – weakens the foundations of the existing system, because those gaining power see the increasing benefits and the decreasing cost of changing the system. The result, maintains Gilpin, is that actors seek to alter the system through territorial, political, or economic expansion until the marginal costs of continuing change are greater than the marginal benefits. When states develop the power to change the system according to their interests they will strive to do so – either by increasing economic efficiency and maximizing mutual gain, or by redistributing wealth and power in their own favor.

Although Professor Gilpin makes no claim to have discovered any global “laws of change,” he does argue that the major turning points of international history exhibit recurrent patterns and general tendencies from which a model of international change can be constructed. No matter what the level of technological prowess or economic power, world politics is still characterized by the struggle of independent nation-states for power, prestige, and wealth in a condition of global anarchy. The fundamental problem of international relations continues to be resolving the consequences of uneven growth of power among states. The danger of war and violence remains a serious possibility as the world moves from the decay of one international system toward the creation of another.

War and Change in World Politics offers a new way of thinking about international relations. Through this framework for analysis, Professor Gilpin establishes the basis for a greatly improved understanding of political change. It will help us to assess the shifts in power and the inevitable stresses of the next decade that arise from the interaction between the great powers and the growing powers in the world.

Robert G. Gilpin, Jr. is Eisenhower Professor of International Affairs at Princeton University. His previous books are U.S. Power and the Multinational Corporation: The Political Economy of Direct Foreign Investment, France and the Age of the Scientific State, and American Scientists and Nuclear Weapons Policy.