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Causes of War: (20) Paper I


From the Peloponnesian Wars to the War on Terror, the act of war has been
spread throughout history.
The fact that war appears to be a historical constant has incline some
theorists to argue that there are deeper or underlying explanations for it that
apply to all ages and all societies (Suganami 1996).
But first, it is important to ascertain what exactly, is war. According to
Andrew Heywood, War is a condition of armed conflict between two or
more parties (usually states). It has however, a formal or quasi-legal
character in that the declaration of a state of war need not necessarily be
accompanied by an outbreak of hostilities.
In studying the causes of war we can take structural guidance from Kenneth
Waltz, who points out, in his book Man, the State and War that such theories
can be categorized in terms of three levels of analysis: human nature
(individual level), internal characteristics of states (state level) and structural
or systematic pressures (system/international level).

Causes of War at the International/System Level:

Many theories advanced that focus on the cultural, or psychological nature
of individual leaders or man in general, or the decision making process of
the regime or domestic politics. (Reiter 2003). On an international level
however, there are two most prominent theories that explain why war
Realism and Liberalism. Both, being system level theories, consider the state
as the main actor in the international system.
- States can have two types of relations with each other: of cooperation (e.g.
Pakistan and China) [neoliberalism], or of conflict (e.g. Pakistan and India)

- Realism:
- dominant paradigm to explain causes of war and state behavior, and necessarily
holds a pessimistic view of politics.
realist theory explains intl system as archaic, threatening or unstable.
neo-realism particularly, focuses on the conflicts of war. Neo-realist theorists like
Mearsheimer (in his offensive realism theory) have pointed out that states are
rational actors - in an anarchic world i.e. there is no world governance, or no higher
authority or rule of law on top of the nation-state system. -There is thus in the
international system, lawlessness, chaos etc.
This leads to "security dilemma" - an action by a state for its own defence would be
perceived as threatening, hostile or malicious by another - as a result each state
would try to increase its power and military capabilities to ensure survival. = known
as 'balancing behavior of states'. e.g. Pakistan threatened by India
- war - one of the mechanisms by states to maximize power and ensure survival to
curb the 'security dilemma'. This however, may lead to miscalculations as well, as
countermoves by them. This may lead to, as evident from the Cold War, the threat
of use of force or 'blackmail' to maximize power without war actually taking place.
- Mearsheimer explains - that polarity i.e. no of powers in war, has great bearing on
possibility of war occurring. Where multiple great powers, more chance e.g. WWI
and WWII, but where balanced bipolar world, less chance e.g. Cold War.

- Liberalism: competing view to realism, on why wars occur, at a system

level. "Liberal Peace Theory" stipulates that the security dilemma in an
anarchic world can be alleviated. Russet 2001 describes Three Kantian
Principles of this Peace Theory, and says that when applied, the three make
war unlikely.
- These principles depend on the type of regime of the state, whether or
not its democratic
ependence of free trade between states
ational institutions that foster cooperation and acceptable norms .
- According to this theory, war occurs when Kantian principles are not
applied, so e.g. states that are autocratic are more likely to be involved in
war. If there is no interdependence in trade, then there is less incentive for
states to avoid war. Similarly, lack of institutional structure e.g. like UN
would not curb the anarchic structure of states.
relative power of states and polarity of power, in legal liberal theory does not
pay a major role in why war occurs.
- most powerful support to liberal perspective is the consistent decline in war
and great power conflict since end of WWII and Cold War.
- in the view of Ikram Rabbani however, neo-realism provides a more
consistent view on international war.

Causes of War at State Level: Inner Characteristics of Political Actors

1. Undemocratic states
- Liberals point out that some states constitutional and government system is
more inclined to war and some to peace. Authoritarian and imperialist states
have, generally, a higher tendency towards militarism and war, as such
regimes rely heavily on armed forces to maintain domestic order (for the
need to subdue any rebellions or nationalist forces), and their government
doesn’t consider itself responsible to the masses e.g. In Iraq, Saddam
Hussain's government attacked on Kuwait, Saudi Arabian attack on Yemen.
It is interesting to note that in the latter case the government the Saudi
government asked for military forces from Pakistan, which, being a
democratic state, called an All Parties Conference (APC) and did not comply
with the request.

- The Democratic Peace Thesis, supported by most Liberals, suggests

that democracy and peace are linked, as wars do not occur in democracy.
Classic Liberal Theorist Immanuel Kant pointed out the same in his Essay
"On Perpetual Peace". However, this assertion of liberals can easily be
rebutted by looking at contemporary and practical examples: e.g. US attack
on Iraq 2003, where the USA was a "stable democracy" imposing their
governance system on Iraq, but not being successful. The same was
attempted by the States in the Vietnam War in 1960s. Morgenthau, a classic
realist points out in his book "Politics among Nations" the fallacy of the
USA in doing so in Vietnam.
- Realists, and Neorealists specifically point to the self-help anarchic
system. Within them, 'offensive realists' assert that war happens regardless of
the constitutional structure or the type of regime. Mearsheimer (neo-realist)
points to the US attack on Iran, even though he himself is an American. the
only way to end war, for realists, is to end anarchy and establish a world

2. Imperialist States
- Liberals point out that imperialist states are more inclined towards war as
- e.g. Japan, an imperialist state, attacked Manchuria in China and annexed
it. (1937). Recent examples include Russia and UK fighting in Afghanistan.
- note only: Two types of imperialism: colonialism (old form of imperialism
16-19th century)
influencing another state (new

- Other structural theories also point to this. Marxists particularly

point out that war is a consequence of international dynamics of capitalist
system. As capitalist states have an inevitable need for expansion in the
hopes of maintaining profits by gaining control over new markets, raw
materials, supplies and cheap labor. Lenin, in his book: Imperialism - the
Highest State of Capitalism pointed this out as well. Lenin points out one of
the reasons for WWI was that the imperialist powers ran out of places to
Colonies, and fought amongst themselves over such power and influence.

However, such economic theories of war, are now mostly redundant as trade
is the more acceptable form of economic progress rather than conquest and
expansion, since 1945. So far, economic progress has led to interdependence
and integration rather than hostility. The biggest example of this is the EU,
which was made specifically for economic integration after the need to avoid
another deadly war was realized by various European States.

3. Wars for Ideologies: Nationalism

- wars for nationalism occur in two forms mainly:
1. separatist - e.g. wanting Independence e.g. Palestine from Israel, Kashmir
wanting to be an independent state.
2. Irredentist - e.g. Pakistani claims to Kashmir: Hitler, before WWII in his
attempt to establish Germans as the 'master race' had irredentist claims and
took over Czechoslovakia, Austria etc.

4. War as a diversion for national cohesion

- In some cases wars may happen to distract the masses from national
failures, or to prop up an unpopular regime, as Heywood points out. e.g.
Argentinian attack on the Falkland Islands 1992, Russo-Japanese War 1904-
1905 where internally Russia was in the threat of revolution and there was
unrest simmering in the country, but this cause of war provided national

5. Military-Industrial Complex
- termed by US President Eisenhower
- government, army and manufacturing industries, plan for war to sale
weapons, or even for construction of infrastructure after the war.
- particularly, the USA is blamed for causing war under this theory.
- The Great Depression was cured only after massive weapons sale and
boost in industry of the USA after and during WWII.
- and contemporarily, said that the tension in Syria, or the tension between
Iran and Saudi Arabia has USA behind it, as the USA sold weapons to SA,
sells weapons to India (for tensions with Pakistan) and sells weapons to
Taiwan (for tensions with China).


1. Human Nature

- classical liberalism points out to human nature as a cause of war.

- they describe human nature as negative, greedy, opportune, power

hungry. Thucydides points out that war is described by "lust for power"
which arises from man's greed and ambition. He points out that war is
endless as human desire is endless, while the resources at our disposal are
- described as such by classic and contemporary writers e.g.
Michaevelli the Prince, and Mrgenthau - modern US classical realist.

- Scientific support for the self interest in humans can be seen from
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which has been furthered by Social
Dawrinists, who talk about human aggression becuase there is a need for
'survival of the fittest'.

- Lorenz in his book "On Aggression" discusses 'intra-specefic

aggression' i.e. that aggression is biologically progammed into humans,
points out that humans are one of the few speciaes that kill other of its own
species. War is thus a necessary and inevitable outcome of the aggressive
human nature.

- Robert Ardrey coined the term 'territorial imperative' where just like
animals protect there habitats, man, a social animal, protects its on habitat.

- Sigmund Frued also pointed out that it is in the nature of man to be

aggresive and he is prone to war.

- This biological theory of war can however be criticized, as there momre

focus on nature than nurture. the argument in this case is that man learns
such aggression from society, and this theory doesnt take into account the
complex range of social, cultural, economic and political factors that shape
human behaviour and modify or channel human instincts.

2. Leadership

·0 dictators are more inclined to war, the leaders elected, as they are
accountable to the masses. more of a whimsical temprament

·1 e.g. Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait (1990)

Hitler was also a dictator
3. Misperception
(Q. Are wars rational or irrational)

·2 A major reason for war may be because the other state underestimates
the enemies power, his weakness or his strength. in a neoliberal
perspective, where there is anarchy and choas in the Internatioal
political sphere, and because of the security dilemma, one state may
percive anothers states defensive action as offensive.

·3 in a 'mirror image', the other state is considered as diabolic and


·4 This view may show as irrational or raitonal, many wars.


1. US attack on Iran for the search of WMDs can be considered as rational in

the US view. However, it is largely an irrational war, especially as the
Chilcot inquiry later proved that the USA was infact aware that no such
weapons existed. In 2011 they had to withdraw forces as they couldnt

2. USSR attack on Kuwait.

3. USA attack on Vietnam in 1965, largely irrational. They underestimated

the war, and were not accustomed to the guriella warfare techniques
emplyed by the Vietnamese. eventually, they had to pull out of Vietnam as

4. Hitler, wanting to make Germany the strongest country in Europe

considerd an attck on Russia like 'a child kicking sand', but the reason he lost
was in Russia.

5. Before WWI, Kaiser Wilhelm (William), German dictator boasted of the

catastrophical war lasting only a few months, but it ended four years later in
1918. therefore there was misperception about the magnitude of the enemies
strengths and the timing of the war.
6. Franco- Prussian War: French revolution 1789 - the french nobles fled to
countries where there were reigning monarchs, e.g. Austria, Prussia, who
didnt want the revolution spread to their countries. Considering the new
french republic a weak one, with no order but only masses of
revolutionaries, they attaked the newly constituted republic. Famously they
said: do not buy many horses, we will be back home by Autumn". However
they had underestimated the zeal and valour in the revolutionaries and the
war lasted from 1789 - 1815.

7. Ghazva-e-Badar - the Kufaar underestimated, vastly the strength of the


8. USA in Afghanista, against Taliban, irrational war. (okkay but whyyy)

4. Fog of War

·5 term coined by Prissuan General 'Clausewitz".

·6 when war starts, there in no knowing how much it will extend.

sometimes thing get out of hand.

·7 e.g.
Afghan War since 2001
Vietnam War lasted 10 years
30 Years War
100 Years War between France and England

5. Expected Utility of War

·8 more benefit than loss is expected.

·9 the model of foriegn policy is a rational actor model.

·10 realism: states are rational actors