Risky cascading transitions in international relationships

Mingyuan Zhang, Shenwen Chen, Wenbo Du, Xianbin Cao, Daqing Li, Jun Zhang, Shlomo Havlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Changing attitudes in diplomatic relations is a common feature of international politics. However, such changes may trigger risky domino-like cascades of “friend-to-enemy” transitions among other counties and yielding catastrophic damage that could reshape the global network of international relationships. While previous attention has been focused on studying single pairs of international relationships, due to the lack of a systematic framework, it remains still unknown whether, and how, a single transition of attitude between two countries could trigger a cascade of attitude transitions among other countries. Here, we develop such a framework and construct a global evolving network of relations between country pairs based on 70,756,728 international events between 1,225 country pairs from January 1995 to March 2020. Our framework can identify and quantify the cascade of transitions following a given original transition. Surprisingly, weaker transitions are found to initiate most of the largest cascades. We also find that transitions are not only related to the balance of the local environment, but also global network properties such as betweenness centrality. Our results suggest that these transitions have a substantial impact on bilateral trade volumes and scientific collaborations. Our results reveal reaction chains of international relations, which could be helpful for designing early warning signals and mitigation methods for global international conflicts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpgac289
JournalPNAS Nexus
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the National Academy of Sciences.


This paper is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant 61827901, 61961146005 and the National Key Research and Development Program of China under Grant 2019YFF0301400.

FundersFunder number
National Natural Science Foundation of China61827901, 61961146005
National Key Research and Development Program of China2019YFF0301400


    • Cascade effects
    • Complex system
    • Computational framework
    • International relationships


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