This chapter introduces prominent approaches to mitigating the effects of the security dilemma as well as
how insecurity can be managed short of war.
• War is the oldest, most prevalent, and most salient issue in international relations.
• Attention to war and security is warranted: security comes first in international relations; all other
competing values such as human rights, the environment, and economic development presuppose
• Although 3.5 billion have died in the 14,500 armed struggles throughout history, the number and
intensity of war has dropped by onehalf since 1991.
• International relations theorists disagree over the inevitability of war.
• Classical realists and neorealists argue that war is inevitable. They view states as victims of the
prisoners’ dilemma during times of conflict: each state is compelled to harm the other so as to avoid
the worst possible outcome.
• The inevitability of war also creates a security dilemma: states seeking to increase their defense
capabilities end up threatening other states in the system, thereby increasing tensions and the chance
• Liberals argue that war can be eliminated with sufficient effort and effective institutions that can
reduce the chances of conflict. Liberals also argue that the way in which a state is governed
domestically can change its attitude toward war. The democratic peace concept demonstrates this
by arguing that democracies virtually never fight one another.
• Radicals argue that war can be eliminated, but only through a revolutionary change in the character
of the system.
• Constructivists argue that war is the result of a process of socialization in which conflict is assumed
to exist. If this construction is changed, then war can potentially be eliminated.
• Historically, states have sought security by balancing realist and liberal policies. When states face
more serious threats, they tend to look toward realism.
II. CAUSES OF WAR
Both the characteristics of individual leaders and the general attributes of people have been blamed for
• Realist interpretation: Characteristics of the masses lead to the outbreak of war. Aggressive
behavior is adopted by virtually all species to ensure survival. War is the product of biologically
innate human characteristics or flawed human nature.
• Liberal interpretation: Misperceptions by leaders, such as seeing aggressiveness where it may not
be intended, or attributing the actions of one person to an entire group, can lead to the outbreak of
State and Society
War occurs because of the internal structures of states.
• Liberal explanations: Some types of economic systems are more warprone than others, such as
aristocratic states. Democratic regimes are least likely to wage war because democratic norms and
culture inhibit the leadership from taking actions leading to war. • Radical explanations: Conflict and war are attributed to the internal dynamics of capitalist
economic systems: the competition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat over economic
dominance and political leadership. This struggle leads to war. One manifestation of this is
diversionary war: war designed to hold off a domestic political crisis by temporarily unifying the
• Conflict over what institutions should govern a state can also lead to civil wars as groups
attempt to impose their preferred system.
The International System
• Realist interpretation: The international system is equivalent to a state of war; it is anarchic and
governed only by a weak and overarching rule of law. War breaks out because there is nothing to
stop it. States themselves are the final authorities and the ultimate arbiters of disputes; herein
◦ A state’s security is ensured only by its accumulating military and economic power.
◦ Groups seeking selfdetermination cannot appeal to higher authority.
• Realist variant: Power transition theory: Represented by the work of Organski, this theory argues
that changes in state capabilities lead to war. War occurs when a dissatisfied challenger state begins
to attain the same capabilities as the hegemon. Modelski and Thompson find that there are regular
cycles of power as old powers decline and new powers rise.
• Radical interpretation: Dominant capitalist states within the international system need to expand
economically, leading to wars with developing regions over control of natural resources and labor
The Case of Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait
• At the individual level: Perhaps Saddam Hussein’s individual characteristics, including his basic
insecurity and ruthless techniques, help to explain Iraq’s actions. Hussein may have calculated that
his actions would not elicit a military response from the international community.
• At the state level: Iraq was just acting in its own national interest. Iraq felt that the land (oil fields)
annexed had been illegally seized during the British occupation around the time of World War I.
The 1980–88 war with Iran had also reduced Iraq’s oil revenues.
• At the international system level: Several factors indicated that Iraq’s actions would not be resisted:
the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Arab League’s reluctance to criticize its members, and the
historical failure of the UN Security Council to act decisively.
The Case of South Ossetia
• At the individual level: Saakashvili’s efforts to restore “Georgian pride” and resist the Russian
“bully” raised tensions. The pressures of ethnic identity both raised tensions and provided a reason
for Russian interest in South Ossetia. Saakashvili and Medvedev both wanted to look active and
• At the state level: Georgia was acting to promote its sovereignty over a breakaway region. Russia
was acting to increase its influence in part of the former Soviet territory.
• At the international system level: There was no impartial arbiter to deal with any of the questions at
issue in the conflict. In a state of anarchy, both sides had to rely on their own strengths during the
III. CATEGORIZING WARS
• Interstate wars: wars between two or more states. In the past these were the focus of most
research. They are the easiest to study and have caused the most damage. • Intrastate wars: wars between groups within a state, with or without international participation.
While the number of ongoing intrastate wars has declined, the decline has been less precipitous
than the decline in interstate wars.
• Total war: Wars involving multiple great powers. Total wars include significant destruction and
loss of life. Since the end of World War II, total wars have become less frequent; the number of
countries participating in total wars has fallen, and they tend to last for shorter lengths of time This
has led some to argue that this type of war is obsolete.
• Limited war: the objective is not surrender and occupation of enemy territory, but rather to attain
limited goals. The Korean War, the Gulf War, and conflicts in Sudan and Sierra Leone are examples
of limited war.
While interstate wars which can be called total wars have declined significantly, limited wars and
particularly civil wars that are limited in nature have increased precipitously. Twothirds of all conflicts
since World War II have been civil wars.
Characteristics of limited wars:
1. They last a long time, with periods of fighting punctuated by periods of relative calm.
2. Human costs are high: both combatants and civilians are killed and maimed.
3. Food supplies are interrupted.
4. Diseases spread as health systems suffer.
5. Money is diverted from constructive economic development to purchasing armaments.
6. Entire generations may grow up knowing only a state of war.
Limited war has become the most common option for states contemplating violence against other states.
IV. HOW WARS ARE FOUGHT