By definition, international relations consist of interactions among sovereign entities, intergovernmental organizations, non-state entities for-profit and not-for-profit, non-governmental organizations, and many others. As a result the sovereign state is embedded in a wide range of networks, formal and informal. Given that competition for power and influence is a generic feature of politics among nations, lateral pressure theory points to intersections among spheres of influences as a mechanism for setting hostility, potentially setting in place the dynamics of military competition lead to the well-known phenomenon of arms race.

Here the theory draws on four important concepts in international relations theory. These are the (a) the conflict spiral (such as Holsti, 19671), (b) the arms race dynamics (pioneered by Richardson, 19602); (c) the security dilemma (notably Herz, 19503; Jervis, 19974), and (d) the peace paradox (Choucri and North, 19755) – namely, when initiatives by one of the adversaries to reduce hostilities, and de-escalate violence, are considered by the other as a sign of weakness and thus an opportunity for taking the offensive and making a move to gain advantage. In this connection, while everyone acknowledges the importance of deterrence and deterrence theory, there is less agreement about the underlying conditions that enable deterrence or the relevance of deterrence in the 21st century cyber arena – which we shall turn to later on.

Less fully developed in lateral pressure theory are the dynamics of international cooperation, which we shall refer to, later in the context global accord on the environment (Choucri, 19936). The theory draws upon concepts of multilateralism, as a form of coordinated behavior among states designed to reduce disorder and anarchy in the international system. Stated differently, as coordinated action among sovereign states, multilateralism emerged as a means of protecting the interests and activities of states in the international system –in their pursuit of core goals, namely wealth and power (Gilpin, 19877).

Much of the foregoing is applicable at the regional level, however defined, and is relevant to any delineation or aggregation of entities.

  1. Holsti, K. J. (1967). International politics: A framework for analysis. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall. 
  2. Richardson, L. F. (1960). Arms and insecurity: A mathematical study of the causes and origins of war. Pittsburgh: Boxwood Press.
  3. Herz, J. H. (January 18, 1950). Idealist Internationalism and the Security Dilemma. World Politics, 2, 2, 157-180.
  4. Jervis, R. (1997). System effects: Complexity in political and social life. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.
  5. Choucri, N., & North, R. C. (1975). Nations in conflict: National growth and international violence. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.
  6. Choucri, N. (1993). Introduction: Theoretical, Empirical, and Policy Perspectives. In Choucri, N. (1993). Global accord: Environmental challenges and international responses. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  7. Gilpin, R., & Gilpin, J. M. (1987). The political economy of international relations. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.