American foreign policy has been animated by public debate between multilateralism and unilateralism in recent years. Some strains of traditional realist thinking suggest that major powers like the U.S. will naturally tend to be less enamored of multilateral action precisely because they possess the capabilities to engage a wider range of unilateral options and they face fewer structural limitations than other states. We empirically investigate this intriguing potential connection between major power status and multilateralism through the lens of interstate conflict. Using Keohane’s (1990) definition of multilateralism as coordination among three or more states, we analyze states’ propensity to participate multilaterally in militarized disputes. Contrary to expectations, we find that major powers are substantially more prone toward multilateral participation than other states. These results prove to be highly robust in the face of a number of potentially confounding factors and over time.


Original Citation: Corbetta, Renato, and William J. Dixon. "Multilateralism, Major Powers, and Militarized Disputes." Political Research Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2004): 5-14.