Date of Award

December 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Colin Elman


Comparative Politics, Great Powers, International Relations, Military Strategy, Realism, War

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Since the beginning of the modern state system only a few select nations have achieved great power status. But what can account for their rise? The presence of existing great powers would suggest that aspiring states should encounter formidable obstacles that would render their success implausible. In some cases extant great powers sought to counter the rise of a new peer, but the historical record also reveals that incumbents sometimes did not contest the rise of potential competitors. Thus, great powers have pursued two divergent strategies: contestation and nonintervention. How then do great powers decide on which policy to implement? This dissertation advances the argument that a great power’s military strategy is premised on its national interests. It argues that the reason incumbent powers rarely preempt the rise of aspiring powers is because of the low level of threat they pose to states. Incumbent great powers are far more concerned about contemporary rival powers since they possess the immediate capacity to undermine a state’s interests.


Open Access