Gas on the fire: Great power alliances and petrostate aggression

Inwook KIM, Singapore Management University
Jackson WOODS


What causes petro-aggression? Conventional wisdom maintains that the regime type of petrostates has significant effects on the likelihood that petrostates will launch revisionist militarized interstate disputes (MIDs). While domestic politics is an important factor that might explain the motivation and behavioral patterns of a petrostate, it says little about the international environment in which a petrostate decides to initiate conflicts. One significant factor that presents opportunities and constraints for petro-aggression is a great power alliance. In essence, the great power has strong incentives not to upset the relationship with its client petrostate ally for both strategic and economic reasons and, hence, tends not to oppose military adventurism by its ally. Consequently, the petrostate’s anticipation of great power inaction or even protection for its revisionist policy creates a moral hazard problem. Overall, by offering favorable circumstances, a great power alliance has a positive effect on petro-aggression. Although not without caveats, our large-n model and case study bear out this conclusion.