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We examine whether the conditions affecting initial expressions of hostility are similar to those affecting militarized disputes. Analyzing dyadic interactions during the years 1951–1992, we estimate a model to take into account selection effects and check it against another allowing conjunctive causation. Both provide close approximations to theoretical models of the conflict process and yield similar results. We confirm Kant’s belief that all states are subject to the realist conditions of interstate competition that makes disputes likely, but that liberal influences, if present, can constrain the escalation of such disputes to war. Several influences on the conflict process have nonmonotonic effects over the range of state behavior. Geopolitical factors affect the opportunity for conflict more at lower levels of the conflict process, when less information is available regarding acceptable settlements and actors’ resolve, than at higher levels. Factors affecting willingness gain importance as the conflict process unfolds because they facilitate the flow of information relevant to the ongoing dispute. The proposition that democracy and interdependence encourage diplomatic conflicts as signals of resolve is not supported.