Balance of power or the state-to-nation balance: Explaining Middle East war-propensity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Middle East is one of the most war-prone regions in the international system. What is the most powerful explanation of the war-propensity of this region? I argue that neither realism nor liberalism are able to account for variations in regional war-proneness. Instead, I advance an alternative explanation based on the concept of the state-to-nation balance in the region. This balance refers to the degree of congruence between the division of the region into territorial states and the national aspirations and political identifications of the region's peoples. The balance also refers to the prevalence of strong versus weak states in the region. Thus, I explain the Middle East's high war-proneness by focusing on its relatively low level of state-to-nation balance. This imbalance has led to a powerful combination of revisionist ideologies and state incoherence. While other regions suffer from state incoherence, powerful revisionist nationalist forces, notably pan-nationalist and irredentists (the "Greater State"), aggravate this problem in the Middle East. These revisionist forces are often transborder and are especially powerful in the Middle East because of the high degree of external/transborder incongruence in comparison with all other regions. The combination of nationalist revisionism and state incoherence has made the Middle East more prone to violence than most other regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-705
Number of pages48
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
1 Benjamin Miller is the President of the Israeli Association for International Studies and the Chair of the Division of International Relations, School of Political Sciences, University of Haifa. The author is grateful for the generous financial assistance of The Tel Aviv University Institute for Diplomacy and Regional Cooperation; the Department of Political Science, Duke University; The National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa; The Tami Steimnitz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, and the Israel Science Foundation (founded by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities). The author would like to acknowledge the advice and comments on earlier drafts of the following colleagues: Jeremy Pressman, Avraham Sela, Korina Kagan, Robert Keohane, Patrick M. Morgan, Dale Copeland, Avi Kober, Hein Goemans, TV Paul, Galia Press-Bar-Nathan, Norrin Ripsman, Joe Grieco, Peter Feaver, Hillel Frisch, Elie Podeh, Jeffrey Taliaferro, Uri Reznick, Chris Gelpi, Mohammed Ayoob, Oded Lowenheim, Zeev Maoz, Dov Levin, Sharon Mankovitz, Adi Miller, the Editors of Security Studies—particularly Sue Peterson, Elizabeth Kier and Mike Desch, and the anonymous reviewers for the Journal—and participants at seminars at Duke University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Virginia, McGill University, Concordia University, James Madison College, Michigan State University, the University of Haifa and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'Balance of power or the state-to-nation balance: Explaining Middle East war-propensity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this