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From toys to warships: Interdependence and the effects of disaggregated trade on militarized disputes

  • Chemistry
  • Political Science


The United States recently proposed to sell Saudi Arabia advanced weaponry worth 20 billion dollars over the next 10 years. The volume of trade, while significant, is second in the news headline that the United States would provide Saudi Arabia with precision-guided bombs, upgrades to its fighters, and new naval vessels. Trade of strategic commodities, such as armaments, suggests a strong interdependence between countries, which may influence international relations differently than the same volume of toys traded between nations. The author posits the volume and pattern of commodities that countries trade with each other are both relevant to interstate conflict. Commodities are heterogeneous and thus vary in terms of their strategic importance, substitutability, and ease of expropriation. This heterogeneity, along with the volume of trade, influences the opportunity cost of lost trade caused by conflict. This article empirically examines whether the pattern of trade is relevant to conflict for the period 1962-2000. The results from both single and simultaneous equations models indicate that increasing the share of bilateral trade in energy, non-ferrous metals, and electronics increases conflict, whereas for chemicals and arms it reduces conflict. Differences in these strategic commodities' elasticity of import demand and export supply, along with their ease of expropriation, contribute to the heterogeneous effects.

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