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War: Causes and Prevention
War occurs because there is nothing to prevent it.
- Kenneth Waltz (1954)
I. War, what is it good for?
 Different approaches for explanation:
• Descriptive approach (historian view)
• Theoretical approach (political scientist view)
 Neorealists  war is permanent feature of IR
• Anarchy and security dilemma
 Neoliberals  possible to transcend war
• Rewards of cooperation (facilitated by IOs) will put pressure on periphery states
 Constructivists  identities drive war
Security dilemma is driven by identity mechanism (i.e. friend vs. foe)
II. War: Consequence of individuals
 Leaders vary in war proclivity
• aggressive leaders pursue war
 Misperceptions and communications failures
 Use war to extend/consolidate leadership
Theodore Roosevelt
III. War: Consequence of domestic structures
 Economic structure (e.g. capitalism, socialism)
• Lenin’s Imperialism
 Government structure (e.g. democracy, autocracy, theocracy)
• Democratic Peace: empirical fact that democracies never fight each other
 Diversionary warfare
• weak governments use conflict
The World of Regime Types
Polity IV, 2013
Trending Regime Types
Polity IV, 2011
Rally Around the Flag
Nincic, 1999
IV. War: Consequence of int’l system
 (im)balance of power determines conflict
• distributions: multipolar, bipolar, unipolar
 Power Transition: War occurs when a rival state challenges the dominant state
• Preventive war – dominant state wages war on rising challenger
 Hegemonic Governance: War occurs when hegemon is absent or declining
 Alliances: commitments increase opportunities for war
 This perspective ignores the identity of states
Power Transitions:
GDP per capita (absolute) 1870-1940
DE (Germany), US (United States), UK (United Kingdom), JP (Japan), BR( Brazil)
Power Transitions:
Shares of GDP (relative) 1980-2016
War: A failure of institutions?
Discussion topic
 Neoliberals may suggest war results from a failure of institutions. If collective
security is built upon punishing aggressors, a burden exists to correctly identify
 How can we identify an aggressor in international conflicts?
• How might states differ in their approaches to identification?
• And is correct identification possible?
V. War: Consequence of interests
 Territorial wars
• secession, disputed borders, territorial waters, airspace
 Control of government
• intervention to change regimes
 e.g. Czechoslovakia 1968, Iraq 2003
Cross-water disputes
Disputed islands in 2013
claimed by China, Japan, Taiwan
Okinotor Islands
claimed by Japan, but China’s disputes any EEZ
VI. War: Consequence of ideas
 Nationalism  self-determination of a “nation”
 e.g. Israel 1948, Palestine, Kurdistan
 Ethnicity  self-determination of an “ethno-nation”
 e.g. Kurdistan, Kosovo
 Religion  wars of faith
 e.g. 30 Years War, Islamist movements
*taken from
Islam in Europe
(perceived and real)
*taken from The Economist, 2015
Many ways to arrive at a war
Discussion topic
 As we have seen, there are many explanations of war that depend upon what
level of analysis is employed and what variables are deemed important.
 In groups of 2-3 students, select one war from the list below. Provide at least
two explanations to why this war occurred.
Mexican-American War (1846-48)
Spanish-American War (1898)
World War I (1914-18)
World War II (1939-45)
Korean War (1950-53)
Vietnam War (1964-75)
Six Day War (1967)
Iran-Iraq War (1980-88)
VII. Deterrence
 Deterrence: dissuade enemy from taking an action not yet started
 Nuclear weapons as deterrent force
• Mutual deterrence – both states are deterred
 Proportionality, Reciprocity, Credibility
 e.g. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)
• Nuclear primacy – one state has nuclear advantage
 e.g. US global primacy, 1945-49 (and again?)
 Brinkmanship: pushing dangerous events to the brink of disaster in order to
achieve the most advantageous outcome
Indo-Pakistani Nuclear Capacity
*taken from BBC, 2004
States with Nuclear Capacity
*taken from The Economist, 2010
A weapon to end all wars?
Discussion topic
 Some argue the advent of nuclear weapons makes the cost of war prohibitive.
 If nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent, should states be
allowed/encouraged to proliferate?
• Why or why not?