Much of what policy makers, journalists, and scholars discuss under the heading of “international politics” concerns continuously changing patterns of friendliness and hostility between states. We lack, however, good ways to measure such international alignments, across countries and over time. We employ SIPRI data on arms trades between countries since 1950 to develop a new measure of international alignment. Exploiting the fact that the supply of arms is heavily concentrated among the major powers, we code the alignment of a state according to which group of countries its main supplier belongs to (West, East, or “Other”). We find that this measure more accurately maps known changes in foreign policy orientation than alternative alignment measures such as formal alliances, similar UN voting records, shared IGO memberships, or levels of trade. Further, dyads whose countries transition between West-West arms supplier status and East-West or West-Other see their militarized dispute rates almost double on average, while transitions between East-East and East-West or East-Other associate with increases of around 50%. West-West dyad years are significantly more peaceful than almost all other combinations, a fact not at all related to jointly democratic dyad years being somewhat more peaceful on average.
James D. Fearon is Theodore and Frances Geballe Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies. His research focuses on political violence – interstate, civil, and ethnic conflict in particular. In addition he has worked on aspects of democratic theory and the impact of democracy on foreign policy. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals, including “How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia” (co-authored with Macartan Humphreys and Jeremy Weinstein, in American Political Science Review), “Self-Enforcing Democracy” (Quarterly Journal of Economics), “Iraq’s Civil War” (Foreign Affairs), “Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States” (co-authored with David Laitin, in International Security), “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” (co-authored with David Laitin, in American Political Science Review), and “Rationalist Explanations for War” (International Organization). Fearon was elected member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2002. He has been a Program Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research since 2004. He served as Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stanford from 2008-2010.