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  • The Five Reasons Wars Happen

Christopher Blattman | 10.14.22

The Five Reasons Wars Happen

Whether it is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear strikes or Chinese belligerence in the Taiwan Strait , the United States seems closer to a great power war than at any time in recent decades. But while the risks are real and the United States must prepare for each of these conflicts, by focusing on the times states fight—and ignoring the times they resolve their conflicts peacefully and prevent escalation—analysts and policymakers risk misjudging our rivals and pursuing the wrong paths to peace.

The fact is that fighting—at all levels from irregular warfare to large-scale combat operations—is ruinous and so nations do their best to avoid open conflict. The costs of war also mean that when they do fight countries have powerful incentives not to escalate and expand those wars—to keep the fighting contained, especially when it could go nuclear. This is one of the most powerful insights from both history and game theory: war is a last resort, and the costlier that war, the harder both sides will work to avoid it.

When analysts forget this fact, not only do they exaggerate the chances of war, they do something much worse: they get the causes all wrong and take the wrong steps to avert the violence.

Imagine intensive care doctors who, deluged with critically ill patients, forgot that humanity’s natural state is good health. That would be demoralizing. But it would also make them terrible at diagnosis and treatment. How could you know what was awry without comparing the healthy to the sick?

And yet, when it comes to war, most of us fall victim to this selection bias, giving most of our attention to the times peace failed. Few write books or news articles about the wars that didn’t happen. Instead, we spend countless hours tracing the threads of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, America’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the two world wars. When we do, it distorts our diagnosis and our treatments. For if we follow these calamitous events back to their root causes and preceding events, we often find a familiar list: bumbling leaders, ancient hatreds, intransigent ideologies, dire poverty, historic injustices, and a huge supply of weapons and impressionable young men. War seems to be their inevitable result.

Unfortunately, this ignores all the instances conflict was avoided. When social scientists look at these peaceful cases, they see a lot of the same preceding conditions—bumblers, hatreds, injustices, poverty, and armaments. All these so-called causes of war are commonplace. Prolonged violence is not. So these are probably not the chief causes of war.

Take World War I. Historians like to explain how Europe’s shortsighted, warmongering, nationalist leaders naively walked their societies into war. It was all a grand miscalculation, this story goes. The foibles of European leaders surely played a role, but to stop the explanation here is to forget all the world wars avoided up to that point. For decades, the exact same leaders had managed great crises without fighting. In the fifteen years before 1914 alone, innumerable continental wars almost—but never—happened: a British-French standoff in a ruined Egyptian outpost in Sudan in 1898; Russia’s capture of Britain’s far eastern ports in 1900; Austria’s seizure of Bosnia in 1908; two wars between the Balkan states in 1912 and 1913. A continent-consuming war could have been ignited in any one of these corners of the world. But it was not.

Likewise, it’s common to blame the war in Ukraine overwhelmingly on Putin’s obsessions and delusions. These surely played a role, but to stop here is to stop too soon. We must also pay attention to the conflicts that didn’t happen. For years, Russia cowed other neighbors with varying degrees of persuasion and force, from the subjugation of Belarus to “ peacekeeping ” missions in Kazakhstan. Few of these power contests came to blows. To find the real roots of fighting, analysts need to pay attention to these struggles that stay peaceful.

Enemies Prefer to Loathe One Another in Peace

Fighting is simply bargaining through violence. This is what Chinese Communist leader Mao Tse-tung meant in 1938 when he said , “Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.” Mao was echoing the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz who, a century before, reminded us that war is the continuation of politics by other means.

Of course, one of these means is far, far costlier than the other. Two adversaries have a simple choice: split the contested territory or stake in proportion to their relative strength, or go to war and gamble for the shrunken and damaged remains. It’s almost always better to look for compromise. For every war that ever was, a thousand others have been averted through discussion and concession.

Compromise is the rule because, for the most part, groups behave strategically: like players of poker or chess, they’re trying hard to think ahead, discern their opponents’ strength and plans, and choose their actions based on what they expect their opponents to do. They are not perfect. They make mistakes or lack information. But they have huge incentives to do their best.

This is the essential way to think about warfare: not as some base impulse or inevitability, but as the unusual and errant breakdown of incredibly powerful incentives for peace. Something had to interrupt the normal incentives for compromise, pushing opponents from normal politics, polarized and contentious, to bargaining through bloodshed.

This gives us a fresh perspective on war. If fighting is rare because it is ruinous, then every answer to why we fight is simple: a society or its leaders ignored the costs (or were willing to pay them). And while there is a reason for every war and a war for every reason, there are only so many logical ways societies overlook the costs of war—five, to be exact. From gang wars to ethnic violence, and from civil conflicts to world wars, the same five reasons underlie conflict at every level: war happens when a society or its leader is unaccountable, ideological, uncertain, biased, or unreliable.

Five Reasons for War

Consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What do these five tell us about why peace broke down?

1. Unaccountable. A personalized autocrat , Putin doesn’t have to weigh the interests of his soldiers and citizens. He can pursue whatever course helps him preserve his regime’s control. When leaders go unchecked and are unaccountable to their people, they can ignore the costs of fighting that ordinary people bear. Instead, rulers can pursue their own agendas. That is why dictators are more prone to war .

2. Ideological. Consider Putin again. Most accounts of the current war dwell on his nationalist obsessions and desires for a glorious legacy. What costs and risks he does bear, Putin is willing to pay in pursuit of glory and ideology. This is just one example of intangible and ideological incentives for war that so many leaders possess—God’s glory, freedom, or some nationalist vision.

Societies have ideological incentives too. Unlike the people of Belarus or Kazakhstan, the Ukrainians refused to accept serious restrictions on their sovereignty despite what (at first) seemed to be relative military weakness. Like liberation movements throughout history—including the American revolutionaries—they have been willing to undertake the ruin and risks of fighting partly in pursuit of an ideal.

3. Biased. Most accounts of Russia’s invasion stress Putin’s isolation and insulation from the truth. He and his advisors grossly underestimated the difficulty of war. This is a story of institutional bias—a system that is unwilling to tell its leader bad news. Autocrats are especially prone to this problem, but intelligence failures plague democracies too . Leaders can be psychologically biased as well. Humans have an amazing ability to cling to mistaken beliefs. We can be overconfident, underestimating the ruin of war and overestimating our chances of victory. And we demonize and misjudge our opponents. These misperceptions can carry us to war.

4. Uncertain. Too much focus on bias and misperception obscures the subtler role of uncertainty. In the murky run-up to war, policymakers don’t know their enemy’s strength or resolve. How unified would the West be? How capably would Ukrainians resist? How competent was the Russian military? All these things were fundamentally uncertain, and many experts were genuinely surprised that Russia got a bad draw on all three—most of all, presumably, Putin himself.

But uncertainty doesn’t just mean the costs of war are uncertain, and invasion a gamble. There are genuine strategic impediments to getting good information . You can’t trust your enemy’s demonstrations of resolve, because they have reasons to bluff, hoping to extract a better deal without fighting. Any poker player knows that, amid the uncertainty, the optimal strategy is never to fold all the time. It’s never to call all the time, either. The best strategy is to approach it probabilistically—to occasionally gamble and invade.

5. Unreliable. When a declining power faces a rising one, how can it trust the rising power to commit to peace ? Better to pay the brutal costs of war now, to lock in one’s current advantage. Some scholars argue that such shifts in power, and the commitment problems they create, are at the root of every long war in history —from World War I to the US invasion of Iraq. This is not why Russia invaded Ukraine, of course. Still, it may help to understand the timing. In 2022, Russia had arguably reached peak leverage versus Ukraine. Ukraine was acquiring drones and defensive missiles. And the country was growing more democratic and closer to Europe—to Putin, a dangerous example of freedom nearby. How could Ukraine commit to stop either move? We don’t know what Putin and his commanders debated behind closed doors, but these trends may have presented a now-or-never argument for invasion.

Putting the five together, as with World War I and so many other wars, fallible, biased leaders with nationalist ambitions ignored the costs of war and drove their societies to violent ruin. But the explanation doesn’t end there. There are strategic roots as well. In the case of Russia, as elsewhere, unchecked power, uncertainty, and commitment problems arising from shifting power narrowed the range of viable compromises to the point where Putin’s psychological and institutional failures—his misperceptions and ideology—could lead him to pursue politics by violent means.

The Paths to Peace

If war happens when societies or their leaders overlook its costs, peace is preserved when our institutions make those costs difficult to ignore. Successful, peaceful societies have built themselves some insulation from all five kinds of failure. They have checked the power of autocrats. They have built institutions that reduce uncertainty, promote dialogue, and minimize misperceptions. They have written constitutions and bodies of law that make shifts in power less deadly. They have developed interventions—from sanctions to peacekeeping forces to mediators—that minimize our strategic and human incentives to fight rather than compromise.

It is difficult, however, to expect peace in a world where power in so many countries remains unchecked . Highly centralized power is one of the most dangerous things in the world, because it accentuates all five reasons for war. With unchecked leaders , states are more prone to their idiosyncratic ideologies and biases. In the pursuit of power, autocrats also tend to insulate themselves from critical information. The placing of so much influence in one person’s hands adds to the uncertainty and unpredictability of the situation. Almost by definition, unchecked rulers have trouble making credible commitments.

That is why the real root cause of this current war is surely Putin’s twenty-year concentration of power in himself. And it is why the world’s most worrisome trend may be in China, where a once checked and institutionalized leader has gathered more and more power in his person. There is, admittedly, little a nation can do to alter the concentration of power within its rivals’ political systems. But no solution can be found without a proper diagnosis of the problem.

Christopher Blattman is a professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. This article draws from his new book, Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace , published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

Image credit: Oles_Navrotskyi , via


Lucius Severus Pertinax

War, in the end, is about Armed Robbery writ large; whether Committing it, Preventing it, or Redressing it. It is all about somebody trying to take somebody else's stuff.


Peace is the time of waiting for war. A time of preparation, or a time of willful ignorance, blind, blinkered and prattling behind secure walls. – Steven Erikson

Niylah Washignton

That is the right reason, I do not know about the others, but I will give you a+ on this one


its beeches thy want Resorces


Wars often come when a group of nations (for example the USSR in the Old Cold War of yesterday and the U.S./the West in New/Reverse Cold War of today) move out smartly to "transform"/to "modernize" both their own states and societies (often leads to civil wars) and other states and societies throughout the world also (often leads to wars between countries).

The enemy of those groups of nations — thus pursuing such "transformative"/such "modernizing" efforts — are, quite understandably, those individuals and groups, and those states and societies who (a) would lose current power, influence, control, safety, privilege, security, etc.; this, (b) if these such "transformative"/these such "modernizing" efforts were to be realized.

From this such perspective, and now discussing only the U.S./the West post-Cold War efforts — to "transform"/to "modernize" the states and societies of the world (to include our own states and societies here in the U.S./the West) — this, so that same might be made to better interact with, better provide for and better benefit from such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy;

Considering this such U.S./Western post-Cold War "transformative"/"modernizing" effort, note the common factor of "resistance to change" coming from:

a. (Conservative?) Individual and groups — here in the U.S./the West — who want to retain currently threatened (and/or regain recently lost) power, influence, control, etc. And:

b. (Conservative?) states and societies — elsewhere throughout the world — who have this/these exact same ambition(s).

From this such perspective, to note the nexus/the connection/the "common cause" noted here:

"Liberal democratic societies have, in the past few decades, undergone a series of revolutionary changes in their social and political life, which are not to the taste of all their citizens. For many of those, who might be called social conservatives, Russia has become a more agreeable society, at least in principle, than those they live in. Communist Westerners used to speak of the Soviet Union as the pioneer society of a brighter future for all. Now, the rightwing nationalists of Europe and North America admire Russia and its leader for cleaving to the past."

(See "The American Interest" article "The Reality of Russian Soft Power" by John Lloyd and Daria Litinova.)

“Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”

(See the “National Review” item entitled: “How Russia Wins” by David French.)

Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

In the final paragraph of our article above, the author states: "That is why the real root cause of this current war is surely Putin’s twenty-year concentration of power in himself."

Based on the information that I provide above — which addresses the "resistance" efforts of entities both here at home and there abroad — might we beg to differ?

From the perspective of wars between nations relating to attempts as "transformation" by one party (and thus not as relates to civil wars which occur with "transformative" attempts in this case) here is my argument above possibly stated another way:

1. In the Old Cold War of yesterday, when the Soviets/the communists sought to "transform the world" — in their case, so that same might be made to better interact with, better provide for and better benefit from such this as socialism and communism:

a. The "root cause" of the conflicts that the U.S. was engaged in back then — for example in places such as Central America —

b. This such "root cause" was OUR determination to stand hard against these such "transformative" efforts and activities — which were taking place, back then, in OUR backyard/in OUR sphere of influence/in OUR neck of the woods.

2. In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, however, when now it is the U.S./the West that seeks to "transform the world" — in our case, so that same might be made to better interact with, better provide for and better benefit from such things as market-democracy:

“The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement, enlargement of the world’s free community of market democracies,’ Mr. Lake said in a speech at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.”

(See the September 22, 1993 New York Times article “U.S. Vision of Foreign Policy Reversed” by Thomas L. Friedman.)

a. Now the "root cause" of the conflicts that Russia is engaged in today — for example in places such as Ukraine —

b. This such "root cause" is now RUSSIA'S determination to stand hard against these such "transformative" efforts and activities — which are taking place now in RUSSIA'S backyard/in RUSSIA'S sphere of influence/in RUSSIA's neck of the woods.

(From this such perspective, of course, [a] the current war in Ukraine, this would seem to [b] have little — or indeed nothing — to do with "Putin's twenty-year concentration of power in himself?")


It’s easy to put the whole blame on Putin himself with his unchecked power . But this is a gross simplification of the reality in case of the Ukraine war. NATO expansion everywhere and especially into the very birthplace of Russia was a huge irritator , perceived as unacceptable, threatening, arrogant with no regard to Russia’s interests. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was a clear warning, that was completely ignored. Without NATO’s ambitions there would be no war in Ukraine. Or Georgia .

When the Soviet Union installed missles in Cuba , the democratic and presumably the country with all checks and balances in place almost started a nuclear war with the Soviets. It was a reckless gamble that could end the world Why expect anything less from the modern Russia that feels threatened by NATO encroachment?

word wipe

In the end, whether it's about committing, preventing, or rectifying, war is all about armed robbery. The main plot is around a thief trying to steal from another person.

Brent sixie6e elisens

One of the main causes of war is nationalist garbage. This nationalist site conveniently omits this as they push their preferred chosen nationalist enemy(cold war leftovers in this case) on the reader. What do you expect from OVRA/NKVD reruns?


In addition to the reasons explored to further explain the cause of war, there are also self-defeating schema in thought structures that deteriorate over time. They become compromised by the wear-and-tear grind of life of individuals seeking natural causes and solutions collectively and apart. This is particularly relevant to the matter of war dynamics. When energies used to pursue peace are perceived as exhausted, unspent warfare resources appear more attractive. Particularly in the instances of deteriorating leaders who are compromised by psychopathy, war can quickly become nearly inevitable. Add a number of subordinated population that are unable to resist, and the world can quickly find itself following in the footsteps of leaders marching to their own demise. On the broader sociopolitical battlefield, with democracy trending down and the deterioration in global leadership increasing, the probability of both war and peaceful rewards increase. The questions that arise in my mind point to developing leaps forward to the structures of global leadership, particularly for self-governing populations, leveraging resources that mitigate the frailties of societal and individual human exhaustion, and capping warfare resources at weakened choke points to avoid spillovers of minor conflicts into broader destruction. Technology certainly can be used to mitigate much more than has been realized.


Wow, I could say all those things about the U.S. and its rulers.


We don't have a dictator.


Trump came pretty close to being a dictator, what with the way people were following him blindly, and the ways that all parties, (Both republicans AND democrats) have been acting lately I wouldn't be surprised if a dictator came into power

Douglas e frank

War happens because humans are predatory animals and preditors kill other preditors every chance they get. The 3 big cats of africa are a prime example. We forget that we are animals that have animal insticts. There will always be war.

Tom Raquer

The cause of war is fear, Russia feared a anti Russian Army in Ukraine would come to fruitinion in the Ukraine threatening to invade Moscow!


it takes one powerful man in power to start war and millions of innocence people to die, to stop the war . / answer!,to in prison any powerful person who starts the war , and save your family life and millions of lives, / out law war.

Frank Warner

The biggest cause of war is the demonstration of weakness among democratic nations facing a well-armed dictator with irrational ambitions. In the case of Russia, the democratic world turned weak on Vladimir Putin at a time when both democratic institutions and peace might have been preserved. Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first-ever freely elected president, had given the newly democratic Russia a real chance to enter the community of free nations in 1991. But when Putin was elected in 2000, we saw the warning signs of trouble. Putin already was undermining democracy. In Russia’s transition from socialism, he used his old KGP connections to buy up all the political parties (except ironically the Communist Party, which now was tiny and unpopular). He also declared he yearned for the old greater Russia, with those Soviet Union borders. The U.S. and NATO didn’t take Putin’s greater-Russia statements too seriously. After all, once their economy stabilized after the transition from socialism, the Russian people were pleased with their new and free Russia, the removal of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain, and the new openness to the West. There was no popular call for retaking old territory. But Putin had his own plans, and as Christopher Blattman’s article observes, when you’re dictator (and even with ‘elections’ you are dictator if you own all the political parties) you can go your bloody way. Then came America’s ‘Russian re-set.’ As Putin consolidated his power, and forced the parliament, the Duma, to give him permission to run for several unopposed ‘re-elections,’ the U.S. decided to go gentle on Putin, in hopes he’d abandon his authoritarian course. This was the fatal mistake. When the U.S. should have been publicly encouraging Putin to commit himself to international borders and to democracy in Russia, the U.S. leadership instead was asking what it could do to make Putin happy. Putin saw this as weakness, an opening for his insane territorial desires, which focused mainly on Ukraine. He let a few more years go by, prepared secretly, and then in 2014, he ordered the invasion of Ukraine, killing about 14,000 people and claiming Ukraine’s Crimea for Russia. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions on Russia, but the terrible damage had been done. Because the Free World’s leaders had let down their guard, an awful precedent had been set. A new Russian dictator had murdered to steal territory. To him, the price was low. That told him he could do it again someday. And in 2022, again sensing weakness from the West, Putin invaded Ukraine once more. Not only have tens of thousands of Ukrainians been killed in this new war, but the Russian people themselves are now locked in an even tighter, more brutal dictatorship. Peace through Strength is not just a slogan. It’s as real as War through Weakness. My father, who fought in Europe in World War II, said an American soldier’s first duty was to preserve America’s rights and freedoms, as described in the Constitution. He said an American soldier also has two jobs. A soldier’s first job, he said, is to block the tyrants. Just stand in their way, he said, and most tyrants won’t even try to pass. That’s Peace through Strength. A soldier’s second job, he said, is to fight and win wars. He said that second job won’t have to be done often if we do enough of the first job.

moto x3m

I hope there will be no more wars in the world

Boghos L. Artinian

This, pandemic of wars will soon make us realize and accept the fact that the global society’s compassion towards its individuals is numbed and will eventually be completely absent as it is transformed into a human super-organism, just as one’s body is not concerned about the millions of cells dying daily in it, unless it affects the body as a whole like the cancer cells where we consider them to be terrorists and actively kill them.

Boghos L. Artinian MD


I hope there is no more war in this world

sod gold

war it not good for all humans


Ultimately, be it engaging in, averting, or resolving, war can be likened to organized theft. The central theme revolves around a thief attempting to pilfer from someone else.

Quick energy

In the end, whether involving, preventing, or resolving, war can be compared to organized theft. The core idea centers on a thief attempting to steal from someone else.

No nation would wage a war for the independence of another. Boghos L. Artinian

Larry Bradley

And I will give you one word that sums up and supersedes your Five Reasons: Covetousness James 4:2, ESV, The Holy Bible.

world smartled

Christopher Blattman offers a comprehensive analysis of the five key reasons wars occur, shedding light on the complexities underlying conflicts and peacekeeping efforts. Blattman emphasizes the importance of understanding the incentives for peace and the institutional mechanisms that mitigate the risk of war. By examining factors such as accountability, ideology, bias, uncertainty, and reliability, he provides a nuanced perspective on the decision-making processes that lead to conflict. Blattman's insights underscore the significance of promoting dialogue, minimizing misperceptions, and strengthening institutions to preserve peace in an increasingly volatile world.

Veljko Blagojevic

Excuse me, but why all the Russia focus? Also, can all these "reasons of war" be applied to Israel also – autocratic rule, biases in information, etc? Finally, most wars in the last 70 years have been started by the US (either directly invading, or by supporting a nationalist faction in bloody coups and civil wars) – do the same reasons apply to those wars, as in the US has essentially autocratic leadership which has biased views and fears competition?

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causes of war essay

First read: preview and skimming for gist

Second read: key ideas and understanding content.

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Third read: evaluating and corroborating

  • This article gives several examples of how transformations in the nineteenth century led to the war. Things like nationalism (communities frame), industrialization (production and distribution frame), and outdated diplomatic technology (networks frame) are blamed for the war. Can you think of any transformations during the nineteenth century that might have helped prevent war?

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Article contents

The conduct and consequences of war.

  • Alyssa K. Prorok Alyssa K. Prorok Department of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  •  and  Paul K. Huth Paul K. Huth Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland
  • Published in print: 01 March 2010
  • Published online: 22 December 2017
  • This version: 25 June 2019
  • Previous version

The academic study of warfare has expanded considerably over the past 15 years. Whereas research used to focus almost exclusively on the onset of interstate war, more recent scholarship has shifted the focus from wars between states to civil conflict, and from war onset to questions of how combatants wage and terminate war. Questioned as well are the longer-term consequences of warfare for countries and their populations. Scholarship has also shifted away from country-conflict-year units of analysis to micro-level studies that are attentive to individual-level motives and explanations of spatial variation in wartime behavior by civilians and combatants within a country or armed conflict. Today, research focuses on variations in how states and rebel groups wage war, particularly regarding when and how wars expand, whether combatants comply with the laws of war, when and why conflicts terminate, and whether conflicts end with a clear military victory or with a political settlement through negotiations. Recent research also recognizes that strategic behavior continues into the post-conflict period, with important implications for the stability of the post-conflict peace. Finally, the consequences of warfare are wide-ranging and complex, affecting everything from political stability to public health, often long after the fighting stops.

  • interstate war
  • laws of war
  • civilian victimization
  • war termination
  • war severity
  • post-conflict peace

Updated in this version

Updated introduction, subheadings, references, and substantial revision throughout.


Over the past 15 years, research by social scientists on the conduct and consequences of war has expanded considerably. Previously, scholarly research had been heavily oriented towards the analysis of the causes of interstate war and its onset. Three simultaneous trends, however, have characterized scholarship on war since the early 2000s. First, studies of the dynamics of civil war have proliferated. Second, war is conceptualized as a series of inter-related stages in which the onset, conduct, and termination of wars as well as post-war relations are analyzed theoretically and empirically in a more integrated fashion. Third, studies have shifted away from country-conflict-year units of analysis to micro-level studies that are sensitive to spatial variation in behavior within a country or conflict.

This article reviews and assesses this body of recent scholarship, which has shifted the focus from war onset to questions of how combatants wage war and what are the longer-term consequences of warfare for countries and their populations. Scholarly research examines the conduct and consequences of both interstate and civil wars.

The analysis is organized into three main sections. It begins with research on how states and rebel groups wage war, with particular attention given to questions regarding war expansion, compliance with the laws of war, and war severity. Section two turns to the literature on war duration, termination, and outcomes. Different explanations are discussed, for when and why wars come to an end; then, the question of how war’s end influences the prospects for a stable post-war peace is considered. In section three, recent scholarship is examined on the consequences of war for post-war trends in political stability and public health. The concluding discussion addresses some of the important contributions associated with recent scholarship on the conduct and consequences of war as well as promising directions for future research.

The Waging of Civil and International Wars

What accounts for the nature of the wars we see? This broad question drives a new research tradition in conflict studies that compliments traditional analyses of war onset by shifting the focus to state behavior during war. This research goes beyond understandings of why states fight one another to engaging questions of why states join ongoing wars, when and why they follow the laws of war, and what explains the severity of wars. Taken together, these questions open the black box of wartime behavior.

Intervention and the Expansion of Interstate Wars

Research on war expansion developed as a natural outgrowth of analyses of war onset: scholars studying why states initiate conflict shifted focus to understand why third parties join ongoing wars. The link between alliances and joining behavior has been central to studies of war expansion, spawning a broad research tradition that focuses on alliances and geography, differences among types of alliances, and the characteristics of alliance members. Siverson and Starr ( 1991 ), for example, find a strong interaction effect between geography and alliances, in that a warring neighbor who is an ally increases the likelihood of a state joining an existing conflict. Leeds, Long, and Mitchell ( 2000 ) also find that the specific content of alliance obligations is critical to understanding when states choose to intervene, and that states uphold the terms of their alliance commitments nearly 75% of the time. Most recently, Vasquez and Rundlett ( 2016 ) found that alliances are essentially a necessary condition for war expansion, highlighting the importance of this factor in explaining joining behavior.

Alliance behavior is also an important topic in the study of democratic wartime behavior. While Choi ( 2004 ) presents findings suggesting that democracies are particularly likely to align with one another, Reiter and Stam ( 2002 ) provide counter-evidence that democracies are willing to align with non-democracies when it serves their strategic interests. Given the tendency to uphold alliance obligations, and empirical evidence showing that war initiators are more successful when their adversary does not receive third-party assistance (Gartner & Siverson, 1996 ), recent theoretical research suggests that states, understanding joining dynamics, might manipulate war aims to reduce the likelihood of outside intervention (Werner, 2000 ).

These studies suggest that war expansion should be understood as the consequence of a decision calculus undertaken by potential joiners. While much of the contemporary literature focuses on alliance behavior, this only indirectly gets at the question of who will join ongoing conflicts. A full explanation of war expansion from this perspective would also require that we explain when states form alliances in the first place. Further, the analyses of Gartner and Siverson ( 1996 ) and of Werner ( 2000 ) suggest that strategic thinking must be the focus of future research on war expansion. Recent research begins to address this issue: DiLorenzo and Rooney ( 2018 ) examine how uncertainty over estimates of third party resolve influence war-making decisions of states, finding that rival states are more likely to initiate conflict when domestic power shifts in potential joiner states (i.e., allies) increase uncertainty over the strength of that alliance commitment. Future research should continue to investigate the links between expectations of third-party behavior and initial war initiation decisions, as this research highlights important selection processes that empirical research has not yet fully explored.

Finally, recent research goes further to connect war initiation and expansion by arguing that commitment problems—one of the key bargaining failures leading to war initiation—also helps explain war expansion. Shirkey ( 2018 ) finds that wars caused by commitment rather than information problems are more likely to expand, as they are generally fought over greater war aims, are more severe, and last longer. These factors generate risks and rewards for intervention that encourage expansion.

The literature on interstate war expansion has made progress in the last decade with much closer attention to modeling strategic calculations by combatants and potential interveners. The result has been a better understanding of the interrelationship between onset and joining behavior and the realization that the timing and the sequence in which sides intervene is critical to war expansion (Joyce, Ghosn, & Bayer, 2014 ).

Expansion of Civil Wars

The analog to studies of war expansion in the interstate context has traditionally been the study of intervention in the civil war context. Research in this field treats the decision to intervene in much the same way as the war expansion literature treats the potential joiner’s decision calculus. That is, intervention is the result of a rational, utility-maximizing decision calculus in which potential interveners consider the costs and benefits of intervention as well as the potential for achieving desired outcomes. Understood in these terms, both domestic and international strategic considerations affect the decision to intervene, with the Cold War geopolitical climate much more conducive to countervailing interventions than the post-Cold War era has been (Regan, 2002a ), and peacekeeping-oriented interventions most likely in states with ethnic, trade, military, or colonial ties to the intervening state (Rost & Greig, 2011 ).

Whether states are most likely to intervene in easy or hard cases is a central question. While Aydin ( 2010 ) showed that states will delay intervention when previous interventions by other states have failed to influence the conflict, Rost and Grieg ( 2011 ) showed that state-based interventions for peacekeeping purposes are most likely in tough cases—long ethnic wars and conflicts that kill and displace large numbers of civilians. Finally, Gent ( 2008 ) shows that the likelihood of success may not affect the intervention decision equally for government and opposition-targeted interventions. He finds that both types of intervention are more likely when governments face stronger rebel groups, thus implying that intervention in support of rebel groups occurs when the likelihood of success is highest, but intervention supporting governments is most likely when states face their most intense challenges.

There are two likely sources of the discrepancies in this literature. First, most analyses have focused exclusively on the intervener’s decision calculus, or the supply side, failing to account for variation in the demand for intervention. Second, there is significant inconsistency in the literature’s treatment of the goals of interveners. Some analyses assume that states intervene to end conflicts, while others don’t make this limiting assumption but still fail to distinguish among interventions for different purposes.

Newer research takes important strides to address these issues. First, Salehyan, Skrede Gleditsch, and Cunningham ( 2011 ) developed a theory of third party support for insurgent groups that explicitly modeled both supply-side and demand-side factors driving the intervention decision. They found that demand is greatest among weak rebel groups, but supply is greatest for strong groups. Second, research by Cunningham ( 2010 ) explicitly measured whether third party states intervene with independent goals, and Stojek and Chacha ( 2015 ) theorized that intervention behavior is driven by economic motivations. Trade ties increase the likelihood of intervention on the side of the government.

Finally, Kathman ( 2010 ) focused on contiguous state interveners in examining motives for intervention. He developed a measure of conflict infection risk that predicts the likelihood of conflict spreading to each contiguous state. Empirically, he finds that, as the risk of contagion increases, so does the probability of intervention by at-risk neighbors. This research develops a convincing mechanism and empirical test to explain a subset of interventions and provides a clear link from intervention research to recent research on civil conflict contagion. While the contagion literature is too broad to review here, mechanisms posited for civil war expansion across borders range from refugee flows (Salehyan & Gleditsch, 2006 ), to ethnic kinship ties (Forsberg, 2014 ), to increased military expenditures in neighboring states (Phillips, 2015 ).

The literature on intervention into civil wars has grown significantly over the past decade as internationalization of civil conflicts has become common and often results in escalatory dynamics that are of deep concern to analysts and policymakers.

Compliance With the Laws of War

Scholars have recently begun studying the conditions under which compliance with the laws of war is most likely and the mechanisms most important in determining compliance. This research shifts the focus toward understanding state behavior during war and the strategic and normative considerations that influence decision-making processes of states. Two key questions drive scholarship in this tradition; first, does international law constrain state behavior, even when the state is threatened by severe conflict, and second, can observed compliance be attributed to ratification status, or is it instead a result of strategic decision making?

Scholars have yet to provide conclusive answers to these questions; while compliance is observed in many circumstances, most scholars attribute observed restraint to factors other than international law. Legro ( 1995 ), for example, found that international agreements had limited impact on Britain and Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare, strategic bombing of civilian targets, and chemical weapons during WWII. In analyses of civilian targeting during interstate war, Downes ( 2006 ) and Valentino, Huth, and Croco ( 2006 ) also found that international law itself has little impact on a state’s propensity for civilian targeting. Downes argued that civilian targeting occurs most often when states are fighting protracted wars of attrition and desire to save lives on their own side, or when they intend to annex enemy territory with potentially hostile civilians. Valentino et al. ( 2006 ) similarly found that the decision to target civilians is driven by strategic considerations and is unconstrained by treaty obligations relating to the laws of war. Finally, Fazal and Greene ( 2015 ) found that observed compliance is explained by identity rather than law; violations are much more common in European vs. non-European dyads than in other types of dyads.

While these analyses suggest that international law has little effect on state behavior and that observed compliance is incidental, Price ( 1997 ) and Morrow ( 2014 ) argued that law does exert some influence on compliance behavior. Price attributed variation in the use of chemical weapons to the terms of international agreements, arguing that complete bans are more effective than partial bans. Morrow ( 2014 ), however, demonstrated that law’s impact varies depending upon issue area, regime characteristics, and adversary identity. Of eight issue areas, he found the worst compliance records on civilian targeting and prisoners of war, which perhaps accounts for the largely negative conclusions drawn by Downes ( 2006 ) and Valentino et al. ( 2006 ). Additionally, Morrow found, unlike Valentino et al., that democratic states are more likely to comply after ratification than before, suggesting that obligations under international law do affect state behavior, at least in democracies. Finally, he demonstrated that compliance increases significantly when an adversary has also ratified a given treaty, arguing this effect is due to reciprocity.

More recent scholarship expands this research, showing that law may affect state behavior through additional mechanisms that previous research had not considered. For example, Kreps and Wallace ( 2016 ) and Wallace ( 2015 ) found that public support for state policies as diverse as drone strikes and torture of prisoners of war are critically influenced by international law. International condemnation of U.S. policies reduces public support most when such condemnation focuses on legal critiques. This suggests that international law influences state behavior in democracies through its effect on public opinion, not through liberal norms of nonviolence. Additionally, Appel and Prorok ( 2018 ) and Jo and Thompson ( 2014 ) showed that external constraints influence states’ compliance behavior. Specifically, Appel and Prorok showed that states target fewer civilians in interstate war when they are embedded in alliance and trade networks dominated by third party states who have ratified international treaties prohibiting the abuse of non-combatants during war. Jo and Thompson showed that states are more likely to grant international observers access to detention centers when they are more reliant upon foreign aid. These findings suggest that international law can influence state behavior indirectly, through pressure exerted by international donors and backers.

Scholarship on compliance with the laws of war in interstate wars has made considerable progress over the past decade. We now know much more about the contingent support of democratic state leaders and publics for compliance with the laws of war. This key finding opens up new areas of research on the strategic efforts of political and military leaders to convince publics of their commitment to international law and whether those strategies are likely to be successful.

Civilian Targeting in Civil War

The mistreatment and deliberate targeting of civilian populations is an active area of research by scholars who study civil wars (Hultman, 2007 ; Humphreys & Weinstein, 2006 ; Kalyvas, 2006 ; Valentino et al., 2004 ; Weinstein, 2007 ; Wickham-Crowley, 1990 ). Most research on this topic treats the use of violence against civilians as a strategic choice; that is, combatants target civilians to induce their compliance, signal resolve, weaken an opponent’s support base, or extract resources from the population. In his seminal work on the topic, Kalyvas ( 2006 ) demonstrated that combatants resort to the use of indiscriminate violence to coerce civilian populations when they lack the information and control necessary to target defectors selectively. Similarly, Valentino ( 2005 ) and Valentino et al. ( 2004 ) found that incumbents are more likely to resort to mass killing of civilians when faced with strong insurgent opponents that they are unable to defeat through more conventional tactics.

More recent analyses have built upon these earlier works, adding levels of complexity to the central theories developed previously and examining new forms of violence that previous studies did not. Balcells ( 2011 ) brought political considerations back in, finding that direct violence is most likely in areas where pre-conflict political power between state and rebel supporters was at parity, while indirect violence is most likely in locations where the adversary’s pre-war political support was highest. Wood ( 2010 ) accounted for the impact of relative strength and adversary strategy, finding that weak rebel groups, lacking the capacity to protect civilian populations, will increase their use of violence in response to state violence, while strong rebel groups display the opposite pattern of behavior. Lyall ( 2010a ) also found conditionalities in the relationship between state behavior and insurgent reactions, demonstrating that government “sweep” operations are much more effective at preventing and delaying insurgent violence when carried out by forces of the same ethnicity as the insurgent group. Finally, Cohen ( 2016 ) advanced research by focusing on wartime sexual violence. She found that rape, like other forms of violence, is used strategically in civil war. Specifically, armed groups use rape as a socialization tactic: groups that recruit through abduction engage in rape at higher rates, to generate loyalty and trust between soldiers.

This large body of research provides many insights into the strategic use of violence against civilians during civil war. However, until recently, little research addressed questions of compliance with legal obligations. With the recent formation of the International Criminal Court, however, states and rebel groups are now subject to legal investigation for failure to comply with basic principles of the laws of war.

Emerging research suggests that the International Criminal Court (ICC) and international law more generally do affect the behavior of civil war combatants. For example, Hillebrecht ( 2016 ) found that ICC actions during the Libyan civil war reduced the level of mass atrocities committed in the conflict, while Jo and Simmons ( 2016 ) found that the ICC reduces civilian targeting by governments and rebel groups that are seeking legitimacy, suggesting international legal institutions can reduce violations of humanitarian law during civil war. These findings should be tempered, however, by recent research suggesting that ICC involvement in civil wars can, under certain conditions, extend ongoing conflicts (Prorok, 2017 ).

Finally, beyond the ICC, Stanton ( 2016 ) and Jo ( 2015 ) both demonstrated that international law constrains civil war actors by establishing standards against which domestic and international constituencies judge the behavior of governments and rebel groups. Particularly when rebels are seeking legitimacy, Jo argues, they are more likely to comply with international legal standards in a variety of areas, from protection of civilian populations to child soldiering. This research suggests that even without direct intervention by the ICC, international law can influence the behavior of governments and rebels engaged in civil war.

While recent research has shown that the laws of war can influence civilian targeting in civil wars, the large loss of civilian life in the Syrian civil war highlights how fragile the commitment to international law can be. It points to important future research questions about when threats of various sanctions by the international community against non-compliance are actually credible and which actors can apply effective coercive pressure.

Losses Suffered in Wars

Recent scholarship has taken up the issue of war severity. Empirical research suggests that the tactics and strategies used by states during war, and the political pressures that compel them to adopt those policies, affect the severity of conflict. Biddle ( 2004 ), for instance, argued that war-fighting strategies influence the magnitude of losses sustained during war, and found that states employing the modern system of force reduce their exposure to lethal firepower, thus limiting losses. Valentino, Huth, and Croco ( 2010 ) examined the reasons behind different strategic choices, arguing that democratic sensitivity to the costs of war pressure democratic leaders to adopt military policies designed to limit fatalities. They found that increasing military capabilities decreases civilian and military fatalities, while reliance on guerrilla or attrition strategies, as well as fighting on or near one’s own territory, increases fatalities. They reported that democracies are significantly more likely to join powerful alliances and less likely to use attrition or guerrilla strategies, or to fight on their own territory.

Speaking to the conventional wisdom that interstate warfare is on the decline, recent research by Fazal ( 2014 ) suggests that modern medical advances mean that, while war has become less fatal, it has not necessarily become less severe. This raises questions about common understandings of broad trends in conflict frequency and severity as well as questions about best practices for measuring conflict severity. Future research should grapple with both of these issues.

Civil war studies have recently begun to focus more on conflict severity as an outcome in need of explanation. Many key explanatory factors in early research mirrored those in interstate war research, making comparison possible. For example, like interstate war, civil war scholarship consistently finds that democracies suffer less severe conflicts than nondemocracies (Heger & Salehyan, 2007 ; Lacina, 2006 ; Lujala, 2009 ). Regarding state military strength, research by Lujala ( 2009 ) demonstrated that relative equality between government and rebel forces leads to the deadliest conflicts, as rebels with the strength to fight back will likely inflict more losses than those without the ability to sustain heavy engagement with government forces. Finally, recent research by Balcells and Kalyvas ( 2014 ) mirrored work on interstate war by focusing on how the military strategies adopted by combatants affect conflict intensity. They found that civil conflicts fought via conventional means tend to be more lethal than irregular or symmetric nonconventional (SNC) wars, as only the former involve direct confrontations with heavy weaponry. While research on conflict severity is still developing, these studies suggest that democracy, military strength, and strategy are consistent predictors of conflict severity, although the mechanisms posited for the effects of these variables sometimes differ between civil and interstate war.

What this research does not provide clear answers on is how battle losses trend throughout the course of conflict, as most factors examined in the above research are static throughout a conflict. As our ability to measure conflict severity at a more micro temporal and spatial level has improved, emerging research is beginning to address these questions. For example, Hultman, Kathman, and Shannon ( 2014 ) find that increasing UN troop presence decreases battlefield deaths by increasing the costs of perpetrating violence. Dasgupta Gawande, and Kapur ( 2017 ) also found reductions in insurgent violence associated with implementation of development programs, though the pacifying effects of such programs are conditional upon local state capacity. Additional research shows that trends in violence in Islamist insurgencies vary predictably, with violence suppressed due to anticipated social disapproval during important Islamic holidays (Reese, Ruby, & Pape, 2017 ). Recent research also suggests local variation in cell-phone coverage affects local levels of insurgent violence, as increasing cell-phone communication improves the state’s ability to gather information and monitor insurgent behavior, thereby reducing insurgent violence (Shapiro & Weidmann, 2015 ). These recent studies represent an important trend in conflict severity research that more carefully examines the dynamics of escalation and de-escalation within given conflicts, both spatially and temporally. We encourage additional research in this vein.

The Duration, Termination, and Outcome of War

What accounts for the duration, termination, and outcomes of interstate and civil wars, and the durability of the peace that follows these conflicts? These questions represent a central focus of contemporary conflict studies, and are closely linked in terms of their explanations. A major innovation in this literature in the past 10 to 15 years has been the extension of the bargaining model of war from its original application in the context of war onset (Blainey, 1973 ; Fearon, 1995 ) to its use in the context of war duration, termination, and outcome.

The turn to bargaining models has placed relative military capabilities and battlefield developments at the center of much of the theoretical literature in this area. This focus, however, has spawned a backlash in recent years, as patterns that contradict the implications of bargaining models are detected and theorized. The bargaining approach and its critiques are discussed in the following sections.

Duration of Wars

Understood within the bargaining framework, war duration is closely linked to factors that influence the relative strength of combatants. Theoretical and empirical research suggests that longer wars occur when opponents of relatively equal strength cannot achieve breakthroughs on the battlefield (Bennett & Stam, 1996 ; Filson & Werner, 2007b ; Slantchev, 2004 ), although this pattern does not hold for wars involving non-state actors where a large asymmetry in power increases war duration (Sullivan, 2008 ).

Additional research suggests, however, that relative military strength may not be the best predictor of war duration. Bennett and Stam ( 1996 ), for example, demonstrated that military strategy has a large impact on war duration, independent of military strength, with attrition and punishment strategies leading to longer wars than maneuver strategies. The type of political objectives sought by a war initiator may also offset the impact of military strength, as war aims that require significant target compliance generally lead to longer wars (Sullivan, 2008 ). Still others argue that domestic political sensitivity to concessions-making increases conflict duration, while domestic cost sensitivity leads to shorter wars (Filson & Werner, 2007a ; Mattes & Morgan, 2004 ). Thus, democracies are expected to fight shorter wars (Filson & Werner, 2007b ), whereas mixed regimes will fight longer wars as they gamble for resurrection in the face of high domestic costs for war losses (Goemans, 2000 ). Research by Lyall ( 2010b ), however, suggests that this relationship is conditional upon conflict type, as he found no relationship between democracy and war duration in the context of counterinsurgency wars.

Biddle ( 2004 ) more directly challenged bargaining models of war duration by comparing the predictive power of models including traditional measures of relative military capabilities to those accounting for combatants’ methods of force employment. Biddle demonstrated that models taking force employment into account generate more accurate predictions of war duration than those assuming an unconditional relationship between military power and war duration. A second important challenge to traditional applications of bargaining models comes from Reiter ( 2009 ). He demonstrated that the argument that decisive battlefield outcomes promote quick termination is conditional upon the absence of commitment problems. When compliance fears dominate information asymmetries, battle losses and the expectation of future losses may not be sufficient to end conflict, as belligerents will continue fighting in pursuit of absolute victory to eliminate the threat of the losing state defecting from post-war settlements. Reiter thus demonstrates that commitment problems and information asymmetries have varying effects on war duration, and both must be accounted for in models of conflict duration and termination.

Despite these critiques, more recent research continues to approach the question of war duration from the bargaining perspective. Shirkey ( 2012 ), for example, argued that late third-party joiners to interstate conflicts lengthen those disputes by complicating the bargaining process. Joiners add new issues to the war and increase uncertainty about relative power among combatants, thus requiring additional fighting to reveal information and find a bargained solution. Weisiger ( 2016 ) similarly focused on information problems, but attempts to unpack the mechanism by focusing on more specific characteristics of battlefield events. Using new data on the timing of battle deaths for specific war participants, Weisiger found that settlement is more likely after more extensive fighting, and that states are more likely to make concessions after their battle results have deteriorated. Finally, recent research has also begun to problematize resolve, considering how variation in actors’ resolve affects their willingness to stay in a fight or cut losses (Kertzer, 2017 ). This represents a fruitful area for future research, as conceptually and empirically unpacking resolve will shed new light on costs of war and how they relate to war onset, duration, and termination.

Scholars studying the duration of civil wars also commonly apply a rationalist perspective. Factors that increase the costs of sustaining the fight generally shorten wars, while those that raise the costs of making concessions tend to lengthen conflicts. Along these lines, research suggests that the availability of contraband funding for rebel groups lengthens conflicts by providing rebels with the economic resources to sustain their campaigns (Fearon, 2004 ). However, additional research demonstrates that the influence of contraband is mitigated by fluctuations in its market value (Collier, Hoeffler, & Söderbom, 2004 ), by how rebels earn funding from resources (through smuggling versus extortion; Conrad, Greene, Igoe Walsh, & Whitaker, 2018 ), and by the composition of state institutions (Wiegand & Keels, 2018 ).

Research suggests that structural conditions also affect civil war duration, such as the stakes of war, ethnic divisions, and the number of combatants involved. For example, ethnic conflicts over control of territory are generally longer than those fought over control of the central government (Balch-Lindsay & Enterline, 2000 ; Collier et al., 2004 ; Fearon, 2004 ). Regarding the role of ethnicity, Wucherpfennig, Metternich, Cederman, and Skrede Gleditsch ( 2012 ) demonstrated that the effect of ethnic cleavages is conditional on their relationship to political institutions. Regarding the complexity of the conflict, Cunningham ( 2011 ) found that civil wars with a greater number of combatants on each side are longer than those with fewer combatants. Findley ( 2013 ), however, showed that the number of conflict actors has varying effects across different stages of conflict, encouraging cooperation early on while impeding lasting settlement.

Third party intervention has also received significant attention in the civil war duration literature, with scholars generally arguing that intervention affects duration by augmenting the military strength of combatants. Empirical findings in early studies are mixed, however; while results consistently show that unbiased intervention or simultaneous intervention on both sides of a conflict increase war duration (Balch-Lindsay & Enterline, 2000 ; Balch-Lindsay, Enterline, & Joyce, 2008 ; Regan, 2002b ), biased interventions generate more inconsistent results.

In a valuable study addressing limitations of earlier research, Cunningham ( 2010 ) focused on the goals of third parties, and found that when interveners pursue agendas that are independent of those of the internal combatants, wars are more difficult to terminate due to decreased incentives to negotiate and a higher likelihood that commitment problems stymie settlements. This suggests that the empirical finding that intervention lengthens war may be driven by a subset of cases in which third parties intervene with specific goals. Ultimately, analyses focused on intervention do not account for the potential selection effect that influences when states will intervene. If Gent ( 2008 ) is correct, biased intervention should be most likely when the power ratio between government and rebel forces is close to parity, a factor which, if ignored, may bias the results of these analyses.

More recent studies have continued to unpack intervention, demonstrating that there are important distinctions beyond the biased versus balanced debate. Sawyer, Cunningham, and Reed ( 2015 ), for example, showed that different types of external support affect rebel fighting capacity differently. Specifically, fungible types of support like financial and arms transfers are particularly likely to lengthen conflict because they increase uncertainty over relative power. Similarly, Narang ( 2015 ) also focused on the uncertainty induced by external support. He showed that humanitarian assistance inadvertently increases both actors’ uncertainty over relative power, thereby prolonging civil war.

Until recently, this literature suffered from a major weakness in that it relied empirically on state-level variables that did not fully capture the dyadic nature of its theoretical propositions. Cunningham, Skrede Gleditsch, and Salehyan ( 2013 ) new dyadic data represents an important contribution to the field, as it explicitly measures the relative strength, mobilization capacity, and fighting capacity of rebel groups and applies a truly dyadic empirical approach. New research in this field should continue to approach questions of war duration and outcome with dyadic data and theory along with more micro-level studies that seek to explain variation in rebel and state fighting across different geographic locations and over time (e.g., Greig, 2015 ).

Ending Wars as a Bargaining Process

Interstate wars rarely end in the complete destruction of the defeated party’s military forces. Instead, new information is revealed through combat operations and negotiating behavior which enables belligerents to converge on a mutually agreeable settlement short of total war. Wittman ( 1979 ) provided the first formal articulation of the bargaining model in the context of war termination. He argued theoretically that war continues until both adversaries believe they can be made better off through settlement. Subsequent analyses have focused on both the battlefield conditions and strategies of negotiations leading states to believe settlement is the better option.

These analyses show that, as a state’s resources are depleted from battle losses, it has incentives to negotiate a settlement more acceptable to its adversary rather than suffer total defeat (Filson & Werner, 2002 ; Smith & Stam, 2004 ). Further, fighting battles reduces uncertainty by revealing information about resolve, military effectiveness, and the true balance of power between adversaries, causing expectations on the likely outcome of the war to converge, and making settlement possible (Wagner, 2000 ). Wartime negotiations provide adversaries with additional information, which Slantchev ( 2011 ) argued makes war termination more likely.

Challenging traditional notions regarding the likelihood of termination in the face of large asymmetries in capabilities, Slantchev ( 2011 ) argued that war termination depends upon states’ abilities to both impose and bear the costs of fighting. If a weaker state can minimize the costs it bears while forcing its adversary to expand its war effort, the benefits of fighting relative to its costs are reduced, and the stronger state may choose termination. The implication of this argument relates closely to Biddle’s ( 2004 ) empirical critique of the bargaining literature, which finds modern methods of force employment can mitigate losses during war, thereby shifting the balance of costs and benefits independent of relative military capabilities. Reiter’s ( 2009 ) critique of bargaining approaches also has implications for war termination. While traditional approaches argue that fighting battles reveals information and increases the likelihood of termination, Reiter suggested that this is only the case if belligerents expect their opponent to comply with the post-war status quo. If commitment problems are severe, information revealed during battles and war-time negotiations will have little effect on termination.

Biddle’s argument that country-year measures of military capabilities are inexact and crude proxies for the concepts advanced in theoretical models is a strong one that should be taken seriously by scholars. We therefore appreciate the contributions of Ramsay ( 2008 ) and Weisiger ( 2016 ), which use more fine-grained battle trend data rather than country-level measures of military capabilities to empirically test the implications of bargaining theories of war termination, and advocate future research adopting this strategy for testing the implications of bargaining theories.

Much of the literature on civil war termination also focuses on how battlefield developments affect the termination of civil wars. Collier et al. ( 2004 ) built on the idea of war as an information revelation mechanism, arguing that the probability of settlement should increase as war duration increases and more information is revealed regarding the relative strength of each side. Others focus on the costs of battle, with research showing that settlements are more likely when the costs of battle are high and the relative payoffs from victory decrease (Walter, 2002 ). Also, a relatively equal balance of power between combatants creates a mutually hurting stalemate, in which neither side can achieve victory, and settlement becomes more likely (Walter, 2002 ).

Empirical results support many of these theoretical predictions. Several scholars show that the longer a civil war lasts, the more likely it is to terminate (Collier et al., 2004 ; Fearon,, 2004 ; Regan, 2002b ), and that the probability of negotiated settlement increases as conflict duration increases (Mason, Weingarten, & Fett, 1999 ). The magnitude of conflict, measured as total war deaths, also correlates positively with the probability of adversaries initiating negotiations (Walter, 2002 ). Finally, Walter ( 2002 ) found that military stalemates significantly increase the likelihood of negotiations as well as the implementation of a ceasefire.

While these results support the theoretical predictions surrounding “hurting stalemates,” Walter’s coding of stalemates does not account for the timing of the stalemate or the number of stalemates that occur throughout the course of conflict. We therefore see great value in more recent research that uses new micro-level data to more closely capture actual battle dynamics and incorporate more information at the conflict and group-level. For example, Hultquist ( 2013 ) used a novel troop strength measure to better capture relative strength between rebel and government forces. He found that relative power parity increases the likelihood of negotiated settlement, while power imbalances extend civil war. Making use of fine-grained data on battle event dates and locations, Greig ( 2015 ) showed that the location, and changes in location over time, of battle events relays information to combatants that, in turn, affects their willingness to negotiate and settle their conflicts. We encourage additional research in this vein moving forward.

Domestic-Level Factors and War Termination

Recent research suggests that domestic political conditions influence war termination. Specifically, domestic political accountability, the domestic audience’s expectations, and cost-sensitivity affect leaders’ decisions to continue fighting versus settling on specific terms (Mattes & Morgan, 2004 ). Along these lines, Goemans ( 2000 ) argued that the postwar fate of leaders influences their choice between terminating and continuing a war. The threat of severe punishment by domestic actors increases the costs of war losses for leaders of semi-repressive regimes, leading them to continue fighting a war they are losing in the hope of achieving victory. Thus, war termination does not follow strictly from battle trends.

Empirically, Goemans ( 2000 ) found that losing mixed regimes suffer significantly more battle deaths than democratic or autocratic losers, and that wars fought against losing mixed regimes last, on average, almost twice as long as those fought against either democratic or autocratic losers. Taken together, these results suggest that mixed regime leaders are likely to sustain rather than terminate a losing war, and more generally, that regime type significantly influences war termination. Croco ( 2015 ) refined Goemans’s work by arguing that the individual responsibility of leaders for involving their country in a war has important effects on war termination patterns, with culpable leaders more likely to fight for victory in order to avoid being punished domestically for poor wartime performance. Croco and Weeks ( 2013 ) refined this logic further, showing that only culpable leaders from democracies and vulnerable nondemocracies face increased punishment risk from war losses. Koch and Sullivan ( 2010 ) provide another take on the relationship between domestic politics and war termination, demonstrating that partisanship significantly affects democratic states’ war termination decisions. Faced with declining approval for military interventions, their results demonstrate, right-leaning governments will continue the fight, while left-leaning executives will be more likely to end their military engagements.

The analog to studying domestic-level factors in interstate conflict would be to examine the effect of internal state and rebel characteristics on civil war termination. Traditionally, civil war studies have focused only on state characteristics, as data on rebel groups’ organization and internal characteristics has been unavailable. Early research argued that state capacity, regime characteristics, and ethnic/religious divisions influenced war termination by influencing the balance of power, accountability of leaders, and stakes of conflict, but empirical results provided mixed support for these theories (e.g., DeRouen & Sobek, 2004 ; Svensson, 2007 ; Walter, 2002 ).

More recent research has made significant strides in understanding how internal characteristics of combatants affect civil conflict termination by using new data to explore how the composition and practices (i.e., leader characteristics, governance, and internal cohesion) of rebel groups influence civil conflict dynamics. This research demonstrates that some of the same leader-accountability mechanisms that affect interstate war termination also influence civil conflict. For example, Prorok ( 2016 ) used novel data on rebel group leaders to show that culpable leaders are less willing to terminate or settle for compromise outcomes than their non-culpable counterparts in civil wars, just like in interstate conflicts. Heger and Jung ( 2017 ) also advanced existing research by using novel data on rebel service provision to civilian populations to explore how good rebel governance affects conflict negotiations. They found that service-providing rebels are more likely to engage in negotiations and to achieve favorable results, arguing that this reflects the lower risk of spoilers from groups with broad support and centralized power structures. Finally, Findley and Rudloff ( 2012 ) examined rebel group fragmentation’s effects on conflict termination and outcomes. Using computational modeling, they find that fragmentation only sometimes increases war duration (on fragmentation, also see Cunningham, 2014 ).

These studies underscore the value of exploring rebel group internal structures and practices in greater detail in future research, as they have an important impact on how, and when, civil wars end.

Victory/Defeat in Wars

Recent scholarship on victory and defeat in war suggests, as in the duration and termination literatures, that domestic politics, strategies of force employment, military mechanization, and war aims mediate the basic relationship between military strength and victory. Empirical results show that strategy choices and methods of force employment have a greater impact on war outcomes than relative military capabilities (Biddle, 2004 ; Stam, 1996 ), that high levels of mechanization within state militaries actually increase the probability of state defeat in counterinsurgency wars (Lyall & Wilson, 2009 ), and that weak states win more often when they employ an opposite-strategy approach in asymmetric conflicts (Arreguin-Toft, 2006 ) or when the stronger party’s war aims require high levels of target compliance (Sullivan, 2007 ). High relative losses and increasing war duration also decrease the likelihood of victory for war initiators, even if prewar capabilities favored the aggressor (Slantchev, 2004 ).

More recent research focuses on counter-insurgent conflicts, using new micro-level data and modeling techniques to address questions of counterinsurgent effectiveness in these complex conflicts. For example, Toft and Zhukov ( 2012 ) evaluated the effectiveness of denial versus punishment strategies, finding that denial (i.e., increasing the costs of expanding insurgent violence) is most effective, while punishment is counterproductive. Relatedly, Weidmann and Salehyan ( 2013 ) used an agent-based model applied to the U.S. surge in Baghdad to understand the mechanisms behind the surge’s success. They found that ethnic homogenization, rather than increased counterinsurgent capacity, best accounts for the surge’s success. Finally, Quackenbush and Murdie ( 2015 ) found that, counter to conventional wisdom, past experiences with counterinsurgency or conventional warfare have little effect on future success in conflict. States are not simply fighting the last war.

An important area of research that has fostered significant debate among scholars focuses on explaining the historical pattern of high rates of victory by democracies in interstate wars. The strongest explanations for the winning record of democracies center on their superior battlefield initiative and leadership, cooperative civil-military relations, and careful selection into wars they have a high probability of winning (Reiter & Stam, 2002 ). Challenging these results both theoretically and empirically, however, Desch ( 2002 ) argues that “democracy hardly matters,” that relative power plays a more important role in explaining victory. This debate essentially comes down to the relative importance of realist-type power variables versus regime type variables in explaining military victory; while scholars such as Lake ( 1992 ) and Reiter and Stam ( 2002 ) argued that regime type matters more, Desch asserted that relative power is the more important determinant of military victory.

Ultimately, we find Desch’s objections to the relevance of democracy to be overstated and his theoretical and empirical justifications to be largely unconvincing. First, Desch’s analysis is biased against Reiter and Stam’s argument because it is limited to dyads that Desch labels “fair fights,” that is, dyads with relatively equal military capabilities. This does not allow Desch to test the selection effect that Reiter and Stam discuss. Second, Desch failed to recognize that many of the realist variables he attributes the greatest explanatory power to are actually influenced by the foreign and military policies adopted by democratic leaders (Valentino et al., 2010 ). Democracy thus has both a direct and an indirect effect on war outcomes, and because Desch ignores the latter, he underestimates democracy’s total impact. Finally, the impacts of power variables may be overstated, as recent research demonstrates that military power’s influence is conditional upon method of force employment and military mechanization (Biddle, 2004 ; Lyall & Wilson, 2009 ).

More recent research examines some of the mechanisms suggested for the unique war-time behavior of democracies, raising some questions about existing mechanisms and suggesting alternatives to explain democratic exceptionalism. For example, Gibler and Miller ( 2013 ) argued that democracies tend to fight short, victorious wars because they have fewer territorial (i.e., high salience) issues over which to fight, rather than because of their leaders’ political accountability. Once controlling for issue salience, they find no relationship between democracy and victory. Similarly, using novel statistical techniques that allow them to account for the latent abilities of states, Renshon and Spirling ( 2015 ) showed that democracy only increases military effectiveness under certain conditions, and is actually counterproductive in others. Finally, new research by Bausch ( 2017 ) using laboratory experiments to test the mechanisms behind democracy and victory suggested that only some of these mechanisms hold up. Specifically, Bausch found that democratic leaders are actually more likely to select into conflict and do not mobilize more resources for war once involved, contrary to the selection and war fighting stories developed by Reiter and Stam ( 2002 ). He did find, however, that democratic leaders are less likely to accept settlement and more likely to fight to decisive victory once conflict is underway, and that democratic leaders are more likely to be punished than autocrats for losing a war. Thus, the debate over the democratic advantage in winning interstate wars continues to progress in productive directions.

Theoretical arguments regarding civil war outcomes focus on state/rebel strength, positing that factors such as natural resource wealth, state military capacity, and third-party assistance influence relative combatant strength and war outcomes. Empirical studies find that increasing state military strength decreases the likelihood of negotiated settlement and increases the probability of government victory (Mason et al., 1999 ). Characteristics of the war itself also affect outcomes, with the probability of negotiated settlement increasing as war duration increases (Mason et al., 1999 ; Walter, 2002 ), and high casualty rates increasing the likelihood of rebel victory (Mason et al., 1999 ).

Debate remains over how third-party interventions affect civil war outcomes. UN intervention decreases the likelihood of victory by either side while increasing the probability of negotiated war terminations (DeRouen & Sobek, 2004 ). This impact is time sensitive, however (Mason et al., 1999 ). Further, the impact of unilateral interventions is less clear. While Regan ( 1996 ) found intervention supporting the government to increase the likelihood of war termination, Gent ( 2008 ) found military intervention in support of rebels to increase their chance of victory but that in support of governments to have no significant impact. More recent research by Sullivan and Karreth ( 2015 ) helps explain this discrepancy. They argued that biased intervention only alters the chances for victory by the supported side if that side’s key deficiency is conventional war-fighting capacity. Empirically, they show that because rebels are generally weaker, military intervention on their behalf increases their chance of victory. For states, however, military intervention only increases their odds of victory if the state is militarily weaker than or at parity with the rebels.

Additional new research by Jones ( 2017 ) also represents an important step forward in understanding the effects of intervention in civil war. By examining both the timing and strategy of intervention, Jones demonstrated that the effects of intervention on conflict outcomes are much more complex than previous research suggests.

Post-War Peace Durability

As with studies on war duration, termination, and outcomes, much of the literature on the stability of post-war peace grows from extensions of the bargaining model of war. For these scholars, recurrence is most likely under conditions that encourage the renegotiation of the terms of settlement, including postwar changes in the balance of power (Werner, 1999 ) and externally forced ceasefires that artificially terminate fighting before both sides agree on the proper allocation of the spoils of war (Werner & Yuen, 2005 ). Building off of commitment problem models, Fortna ( 2004b ) argued that strong peace agreements that enhance monitoring, incorporate punishment for defection, and reward cooperation help sustain peace. Specific measures within agreements, however, affect the durability of peace differently. For example, troop withdrawals and the establishment of demilitarized zones decrease the likelihood of war resumption, while arms control measures have no significant impact (Fortna, 2004b , p. 176).

Postwar intervention is also expected to increase peace duration by ameliorating commitment problems, as peacekeepers act as a physical barrier and reduce security fears, uncertainty, and misperceptions between former adversaries (Fortna, 2004a ). Empirical results support this theoretical prediction, and while the size of the force is not significant, both monitoring and armed forces missions increase the durability of post-war peace (Fortna, 2004a ).

The debate that remains in this literature is whether or not peace agreements can effectively mitigate the influence of relative power variables. Recent research by Lo, Hashimoto, and Reiter ( 2008 ) suggests that they cannot. They demonstrated that cease-fire agreement strength has almost no significant impact on post-war peace duration, while factors encouraging renegotiation receive partial support. While discrepancies in results may be in part attributable to differences in time periods covered, this result essentially confirms Warner and Yuen’s ( 2005 ) finding that externally imposed war termination invites resumption of conflict, regardless of the presence of strong cease-fire agreements.

If, at the end of a civil conflict, each side maintains its ability to wage war, issues of credibility can undermine the peace and cause the conflict to resume. Thus, wars ending in negotiated settlements are more likely to recur than those ending with a decisive victory because both sides have the ability to resume fighting to gain greater concessions and neither can credibly commit to the peace (Licklider,, 1995 ; Walter, 2002 ). More recent research confirms that conflicts ending in military victory are less likely to recur than those ending in settlement (Caplan & Hoeffler, 2017 ; Toft, 2009 ), though Toft suggested that this is particularly true for rebel victories.

This understanding of post-war peace in terms of the bargaining model’s commitment problem has led scholars to examine three primary avenues through which commitment problems might be overcome and peace maintained. First, partition has been advanced as a possible solution to post-war instability. The separation of warring factions is expected to reduce security fears by creating demographically separate, militarily defensible regions (Kaufmann, 1996 ). Empirical evidence generally supports this strategy. Partitions that successfully separate warring ethnic groups significantly reduce the risk of renewed conflict (Johnson, 2008 ), while those that do not achieve demographic separation increase the risk of renewed hostilities (Tir, 2005 ). Further, relative to de facto separation, autonomy arrangements, or maintenance of a unitary state, partition is significantly less likely to lead to war recurrence (Chapman & Roeder, 2007 ).

Second, third-party intervention is expected to play a role in ameliorating the security dilemma arising from commitment problems in post-conflict states (Fearon, 2004 ; Walter, 2002 ). Empirical results confirm that third-party security guarantees are critical to the signing and durability of peace settlements (Walter, 2002 ). Once settlement has been reached, third-party guarantees and international peacekeeping establish punishments for defection (Fortna, 2008 ; Walter, 2002 ), thereby reducing incentives for and increasing costs of renewed conflict. More recent research that employs more fine-grained data on the size and composition of UN peacekeeping forces suggests, however, that this type of third-party guarantee is most effective when it has the military power to enforce the peace. Specifically, Hultman, Kathman, and Shannon ( 2016 ) found that increasing UN troop presence increases peace durability, but the presence of other types of UN monitors has little effect on peace duration. By using more fine-grained data, this study makes an important contribution by allowing us to parse the mechanisms driving the role of third party guarantees in promoting peace.

Third, the incorporation of power-sharing arrangements that guarantee the survival of each side into the postwar settlement is also expected to solve post-civil war commitment problems (Walter, 2002 ). These arrangements allow adversaries to generate costly signals of their resolve to preserve the peace, thus ameliorating security fears (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2007 ). Empirical results indicate that given a negotiated settlement, the agreement’s ability to ameliorate security concerns is positively associated with the preservation of peace. Thus, the more regulation of coercive and political power included in an agreement, and the greater the number of dimensions (political, territorial, military, economic) of power sharing specified, the more likely agreements are to endure (Hartzell & Hoddie, 2007 ).

More recently, scholars have begun to extend this research by focusing more broadly on settlement design. Whereas previous research tended to simply count the number of power-sharing dimensions, newer analyses focus on issues such as the quality of the agreement (Badran, 2014 ) and equality in the terms of settlement (Albin & Druckman, 2012 ). Martin ( 2013 ), for example, found that provisions that share power at the executive level are less effective than those that regulate power at the level of rank-and-file or the public, as elite-level power-sharing is relatively easy for insincere actors to engage in at a relatively low cost. Cammett and Malesky ( 2012 ) found that proportional representation provisions are particularly effective at stabilizing post-conflict peace because of their ability to promote good governance and service provision, while Joshi and Mason ( 2011 ) similarly found that power-sharing provisions that expand the size of the governing coalition result in more stable peace. These analyses suggest that delving further into the design and content of settlement agreements is a positive avenue for future research. Future research should also examine how implementation of peace agreements proceeds, and how the timing and sequencing of implementation affects the durability of peace (e.g., Langer & Brown, 2016 ).

Finally, emerging research on civil war recurrence also shifts focus toward rebel groups and how their composition and integration affect post-conflict peace. For example, new research finds that rebel group fragmentation hastens the recurrence of civil war (Rudloff & Findley, 2016 ), while greater inclusion of former rebels in government improves prospects for post-conflict peace (Call, 2012 ; Marshall & Ishiyama, 2016 ). Emerging research on post-conflict elections also represents an important area for further study, as debate remains over how elections affect conflict recurrence. While some argue that they destabilize the peace (Flores & Nooruddin, 2012 ), others suggest they actually reduce the risk of conflict recurrence (Matanock, 2017 ).

The Longer-Term Consequences of Wars

What are the political, economic, and social consequences of interstate and civil wars, and what explains these postwar conditions? As Rasler and Thompson ( 1992 ) recognized, the consequences of war are often far-reaching and complex. Given this complexity, much of the literature varies significantly in quality and coverage; while post-war political change has received significant attention from political scientists, the social and health-related consequences of war are less well-known.

Post-War Domestic Political Stability and Change

Scholarship on post-war political stability focuses on both regime and leadership change, positing political accountability as a central mechanism in both cases. Interstate war has been theorized to induce internal revolution both indirectly (Skocpol, 1979 ) and directly (Bueno De Mesquita et al., 2003 ; Goemans, 2000 ). Empirical results support the accountability argument, as war losses and increasing costs of war increase the likelihood of post-war leadership turnover (Bueno De Mesquita & Siverson, 1995 ) as well as violent regime overthrow (Bueno De Mesquita, Siverson, & Woller, 1992 ). Related work shows that accountable leaders are also more likely to face foreign-imposed regime change at the hands of war victors (Bueno De Mesquita et al., 2003 ).

A central focus of recent research has been the conditional relationship between war outcomes and regime type. In his seminal study, Goemans, 2000 ) found that leaders of mixed and democratic regimes are more likely to be removed from office as a result of moderate losses in war than are leaders of autocracies. These findings, however, have been challenged by recent scholarship. Colaresi ( 2004 ) finds no difference in leadership turnover rates across all regimes types under conditions of moderate war losses, and Chiozza and Goemans ( 2004 ), employing a different measure of war outcomes and discounting the impact of termination over time, find that defeat in war is most costly for autocratic leaders and has no significant impact on tenure for democratic leaders.

Recently, research in the civil war literature has begun to focus more on post-war democratization, elections, and how groups transition from fighting forces to political parties. Much of the early work in this area focused on the link between war outcomes and the development of democratic institutions in the post-war period, specifically arguing that negotiated settlements facilitate democratization by requiring the inclusion of opposition groups in the decision-making process (Doyle & Sambanis, 2006 ; Gurses & Mason, 2008 ). More recent research, however, challenges this conventional wisdom, showing that the benefits of negotiated settlement are limited to the short-term and that economic factors are better predictors of post-war democratization (Fortna & Huang, 2012 ).

Recognizing that not all negotiated settlements are created equal, scholars have also begun to examine how variation in power-sharing provisions influences democratization. Debate remains on this topic as well, however. While some argue that power-sharing facilitates democratization by generating costly signals that create the stability necessary for democratization (Hoddie & Hartzell, 2005 ), others argue that they undermine democratization by reifying wartime cleavages, incentivizing political parties to seek support only from their own wartime constituencies, and undermining public confidence in governmental institutions (Jung, 2012 ). However, after accounting for non-random selection into power-sharing, Hartzell and Hoddie ( 2015 ) found that the inclusion of multiple power-sharing provisions in peace agreements increases post-civil war democratization. Future research should delve further into this debate, and consider more carefully whether specific types of provisions or institutional designs vary in their ability to promote democracy. Joshi ( 2013 ) represents an important first step in this direction, finding that institutional designs that favor inclusivity (e.g., parliamentary systems and proportional representation) are more successful at producing democracy.

Debate also continues over the effects of international intervention on post-conflict democratization. While some scholars expect intervention to facilitate postwar democratization by mitigating commitment problems and raising the costs of defection (Doyle & Sambanis, 2006 ), others suggest it is used as a tool by interveners to impose amenable, generally non-democratic, institutions in the target country (Bueno De Mesquita & Downs, 2006 ). Doyle and Sambanis ( 2006 ) found multidimensional UN missions incorporating economic reconstruction, institutional reform, and election oversight, to be significantly and positively correlated with the development of postwar democracy. However, Gurses and Mason ( 2008 ) and Fortna and Huang ( 2012 ) challenged this finding, reporting no significant relationship between UN presence and postwar democratization, and Paris ( 2004 ) and Bueno de Mesquita and Downs ( 2006 ) showed that peacebuilding missions and UN interventions actually decrease levels of democracy.

Future research should attempt to reconcile many of these open debates in both the interstate and civil conflict literatures. It should also build upon emerging research on post-conflict elections (Flores & Nooruddin, 2012 ; Matanock, 2017 ) and rebel governance (Huang, 2016 ). Huang’s work on rebel governance, in particular, shows that how rebels interact with civilian populations during conflict has important implications for post-conflict democratization.

Public Health Conditions in the Aftermath of Wars

Social scientists have recently begun to study the consequences of war for the postwar health and well-being of civilian populations. Theoretical arguments developed in this literature generally do not distinguish between interstate and civil war, instead developing mechanisms that apply to both types of conflict. The most direct public health consequence of war, of course, results from the killing and wounding of civilian populations. Scholars argue, however, that more indirect mechanisms cause longer-term public health problems as well. War, for example, is expected to undermine long-term public health by exposing populations to hazardous conditions through the movement of refugees and soldiers as vectors for disease (Ghobarah, Huth, & Russett, 2003 ; Iqbal, 2006 ), damaging health-related facilities and basic infrastructure (Li & Wen, 2005 ; Plümper & Neumayer, 2006 ), and reducing government spending and private investment on public health (Ghobarah et al., 2003 ).

Many empirical analyses, unfortunately, do not directly address the mechanisms outlined above. Overall, findings indicate that both civil and interstate war increase adult mortality in the short and long term (Li & Wen, 2005 ) and decrease health-adjusted life-expectancy in the short term (Iqbal, 2006 ). Conflict severity is also influential; while low-level conflict has no significant effect on mortality rates, severe conflict increases mortality and decreases life-expectancy in the long run (Li & Wen, 2005 ; Hoddie & Smith, 2009 ; Iqbal, 2006 ). Comparing the health impacts of interstate and civil wars, analysts have found interstate conflict to exert a stronger, negative impact on long-term mortality rates than civil war, despite the finding that civil war’s immediate impact is more severe (Li & Wen, 2005 ). Finally, many analysts have found that the negative, long-term effects of war are consistently stronger for women and children (Ghobarah, et al., 2003 ; Plümper & Neumayer ( 2006 ) than for men.

This developing field provides important new insights into the civilian consequences of war, but remains underdeveloped in many respects. First, while some evidence suggests that civil and interstate war might affect public health differently, the mechanisms behind these differences require further elaboration. Research by Hoddie and Smith, represented an important contribution in this respect, as it distinguishes between different conflict strategies, finding that conflicts involving extensive violence against noncombatants have more severe health consequences than those in which most fatalities are combat-related. Second, theoretical models are generally much more developed and sophisticated than the data used to test them. While data availability is limited, efforts should be made to more closely match theory and empirics.

Third, analyses that employ disaggregated measures of health consequences (Ghobarah et al., 2003 ) provided a more thorough understanding of the specific consequences of war and represent an important avenue for additional theoretical and empirical development. Iqbal and Zorn ( 2010 ) thus focus specifically on conflict’s detrimental impact on the transmission of HIV/AIDS, while Iqbal ( 2010 ) examines the impact of conflict on many different health-based metrics, including infant mortality, health-associated life expectancy, fertility rates, and even measles and diphtheria vaccination rates. These studies represent important advances in the literature, which should be explored further in future research to disentangle the potentially complex health effects of civil and interstate conflict.

Finally, recent research has begun to conceptualize health more broadly, accounting for the psychological consequences of wartime violence. Building upon research in psychology, Koos ( 2018 ) finds that exposure to conflict-related sexual violence in Sierra Leone generates resilience: affected households display greater cooperation and altruism than those unaffected by such violence during conflict. Bauer et al. ( 2016 ) similarly find that conflict fosters greater social cohesion and civic engagement in the aftermath of war. This is an important area for future research. As conceptions of conflict-related violence broaden, our conceptualizations of the consequences of violence should also expand to include notions of how conflict affects psychological health, community cohesion, and other less direct indicators of public health.

This final section highlights some of the contributions generated by scholarship on the conduct and consequences of war, as well as some of the gaps that remain to be addressed. First, this body of scholarship usefully compliments the large and more traditional work of military historians who study international wars, as well as the work of contemporary defense analysts who conduct careful policy analyses on relevant issues such as wartime military tactics and strategy as well as weapon system performance. The bargaining model of war has also proven a useful theoretical framework in which to structure and integrate theoretical analyses across different stages in the evolution of war.

Second, a number of studies in this body of work have contributed to the further development and testing of the democratic peace literature by extending the logic of political accountability models from questions of war onset to democratic wartime behavior. New dependent variables, including civilian targeting, imposition of regime change, the waging of war in ways designed to reduce military and civilian losses, and victory versus defeat in war have been analyzed. As a result, a number of new arguments and empirical findings have improved our understanding of how major security policy decisions by democratic leaders are influenced by domestic politics.

Third, this literature has advanced scholarship on international law and institutions by examining questions about compliance with the laws of war and the role played by the UN in terminating wars and maintaining a durable post-war peace. The impact of international law and institutions is much better understood on issues relating to international political economy, human rights, and international environmental governance than it is on international security affairs. As a result, studies of compliance with the laws of war, the design of ceasefire agreements, or international peace-building efforts address major gaps in existing literature.

Fourth, this new body of research has explicitly focused on the consequences of war for civilian populations, a relatively neglected topic in academic research. Research on questions such as the deliberate targeting of civilians during wars and the longer-term health consequences of war begin to address this surprising gap in research. As such, this new literature subjects the study of terrorism to more systematic social science methods and also challenges the common practice of restricting terrorism to non-state actors and groups when, in fact, governments have resorted to terrorist attacks on many occasions in the waging of war.

While this literature has advanced scholarship in many ways, there remain several theoretical and empirical gaps that future research should aim to address, two of which are highlighted here. First, while research on interstate war duration and termination is more theoretically unified than its civil war counterpart, the dominance of the bargaining model in this literature is currently being challenged. Recent research on asymmetric conflict suggests that the basic tenants of the bargaining model may not hold for non-symmetric conflict, while research on force employment and mechanization suggest that traditional power measures exert a conditional impact at best. Additional research is needed to determine the conditions under which bargaining logic applies and its relative importance in explaining wartime behavior and war outcomes.

Second, the accumulation of knowledge on civil war’s conduct and consequences has lagged behind that on interstate war, partially because the civil war literature is younger, and partially because sub-national level data is only now becoming more readily available. While bargaining logic is often applied to civil war, we have little cross-national information on relative capabilities and battle trends, and thus a very limited understanding of the way in which these variables affect civil war duration and outcomes. New micro-level data and studies that are beginning to address these problems represent a promising direction forward for civil conflict research.

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Causes of War: A Theory Analysis

Kyle Amonson

            “ To expect states of any sort to rest reliably at peace in a condition of anarchy would require the uniform and enduring perfection of all of them ” (Waltz, 2001, pg. 9).

War and conflict has been as much a constant in human history as humans. As Kenneth Waltz states, “there is no peace in a condition of anarchy,” and there will always be a form of anarchy as long as human nature is a variable in our complex domestic and international systems. Many scholars have analyzed the causes of war on a state-by-state-basis, other writers believe that it is possible to provide a wider, more generalized explanation (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 239).  Additionally, many well-known international relations theorists have applied forms of theoretical framework to understand how and why we create friction in our societies, focusing on a variety of aspects, from international institutions to gender. For neorealist writers such as John Mearsheimer, international politics is not characterized by these constant wars, but nevertheless a relentless security competition, as we will discuss in this essay (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 242).

There are many immediate contributing factors of war, and this essay will discuss them, but it will initially focus on the generalized explanation of human nature in the pursuit of security as the primary cause of war. This essay will define war in the international and historical sense, then analyze human nature’s role in conflict, followed by human nature’s projection on the nation state and finally conclude with the most frequent manifestations of conflict and conclusion.

Defining War

“War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale…war therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will ” (Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 12).

In order to understand the causal factors of war we have to define what war is and reverse engineer how and why these parties escalated their relations to a violent level of conflict. War is organized violence among groups; it changes with historical and social context; and, in the minds of those who wage it, it is fought for some purpose, according to some strategy or plan (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 225). War may seem simple to define yet encompasses a variety of conflicts with many types and forms of war displayed throughout history and modern times. The two most common forms of warfare are high intensity conflict and low intensity conflict. High intensity conflict is defined through concepts consistent with linear warfare, symmetric combat, combined arms maneuver and unified action through multiple domains. This type of warfare is engaged with “near-peer” capable parity between states. Low-intensity conflict is consistent with asymmetric, permissive battlefields, irregular guerilla tactics, counter-insurgency operations and typically involves non-state actors. Within the concept of war as a whole there also exists the concept of “total war,” where a state is fighting for its very existence. Total war is relative to the concept of “limited war,” which is fought for any lesser goal than political existence (Baylis et al, 2017, 228). Additionally war can either be international, involving more than one sovereign state, or a civil war, existing within a state.

Escalating a conflict to a state of war is never a lighthearted decision, regardless of the type and level of violence. By nature, war escalates, each move is checked by a stronger counter-move until one of the combatants is exhausted (Baylis et al, 2017, pg.230). War takes a significant toll on both the economy and the society of the warring nations, often irreparably changing their culture and shaping their politics for years to come. As Clausewitz famously stated:

War is always a serious means for a serious object….Such is War, such the Commander who conducts it; such the theory which rules it. But War is not pastime; no mere passion for venturing and winning; no work of a free enthusiasm: it is a serious means for a serious object (Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 30).

Human Nature’s Role

“Wars result from selfishness, from misdirected aggressive impulses, from stupidity. Other causes are secondary…” (Waltz, 2001, pg. 30).

War is a creation of human nature. The psychological variables, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind are just a few of the wide range of variables that comprise what is the basic human experience. One common trait to all humans in any society is our flaws and the inherent differences established among society that have developed our cultural norms throughout history. While humans are not “hard-wired” for war and destruction, war is a by-product of envy, selfishness, and self-preservation. As Kenneth Waltz stated in his analysis of “the first image” in his book, Man, the State, and War , all “other causes are secondary.” In order for a state to wage war, “the passions which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the people” (Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 33).

Another common trait is the innate need for safety, most easily described through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow states that “if the physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the safety set of needs” (Maslow, 1943, pg. 6). Additionally, Liberty Hobbes stated “everyone in a state of nature fears for his safety, and each is out to injure the other before he is injured himself” (Waltz, 2001, pg. 93). In the field of international relations, prominent theoretical frameworks refer to this need for safety among people groups as the concept of security.

Security most closely resonates in the subjective state of mind of the people group in that given state. As stated by Arnold Wolfers "security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquire values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked" (Baylis et al., 2017, pg. 240). One can attempt to quantify state power and military capability as it relates to security, but primarily security is a feeling, often felt as a lack of threat-based anxiety on the individual level.

Regardless of the reason for conflict, human’s arrogance that their morality is the ultimate morality has justified conflict since the beginning of time. St. Augustine of Hippo set a precedence of justifying violence in the sake of the common good, a “common good” that is based on societal norms. The commonly accepted just war tradition suggests that any conflict in the name of an end state of peace is acceptable, based on the tenants of jus ad bellum , jus in bello , and jus post bellum , which all encompass varying levels of subjectivity (Baylis at al, 2017, pg. 215).

Human Nature’s Projection as a State

“A nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wished to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war” - Walter Lippman (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 240).

In order to understand the causes of war we have to first analyze human nature and the common traits of individuals. But individuals do not wage war, states and non-state actors wage war. These groups of individuals, bound by a common idea that compels them to violence, represent the human condition that projects on a state to cause conflict. As stated by Waltz in his second image, “men live in states, so states exist in a world of states,” explaining that states mimic human nature, and the international community subsequently mimics states (Waltz, 2001, p. 20). International relations scholars have applied frameworks to war to assess its root cause and have distilled a variety of conclusions. Realism focuses on ideology based on the pessimistic school of thought that human nature will inevitably lead to war while attempting to develop power to support a state's national interests. Realists believe no one can be trusted to protect your state but yourself, security can only be guaranteed through self-help, and regardless of a state's personal goals, the one common interest is survival. Additionally, neorealists focus on the anarchical concept of states existing in a community lacking central authority, where nationalism and security competition leads to inevitable conflict.

Liberal theorists believe that because of the inherent flaws in human nature that humans project onto states, that states will become less and less relevant, resulting in the increased influence of institutions in conflict. These theorists emphasize the positive consequences of globalization in creating deepening interdependence and spreading prosperity, thereby reinforcing global stability (Baylis et al., 2017, Page 30). Liberal institutionalism focuses on the major role that institutions and non-state actors play in international relations and their capability of mitigating security competition through the concept of collective defense. Marxists point towards conflict generated through social divides and class friction, on a domestic and international scale while constructivists focus on the social and cultural variables.

 A consistent narrative in many major theories is the emphasis of the basic need for security. Clausewitz stated that “as long as the enemy is not defeated, he may defeat me; then I shall no longer be my own master” (Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 15-16). This type and level of fear continues the perpetual security competition. Inherent to this competition is that, regardless of the level of state aggression, an increase in security by one state is perceived as a decrease in personal security by another. One example of this in recent history is nuclear proliferation. Our text confirms that the "globalization has also facilitated the proliferation of weapons technologies, including those associated with weapons of mass destruction (WMD)" (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 250). These WMDs have directly resulted in the continued escalation of security competition, evident in events such as the Cold War. Each increase in capability directly creates a perceived decrease in rival states security climate. This competitive technological cycle has been present ever since the start of conflict as stated by Clausewitz, “the necessity of fighting very soon led men to special inventions to turn the advantage in their own favor” (Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 90).

What we have therefore established is a security-based cycle, which is bound to the subjective feeling of safety within the individuals and culture of the represented state. This has effectively continued to affirm conflict as both a form of international relations and a political tool. War will continue to be of the oldest and most common forms of international relations…war is both older than the sovereign state and likely to endure into any globalized future (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 223).

Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy at the individual level, states feel as though they cannot focus on developing their ideal society until security is assured. Once security has been established, a civil society can begin (Baylis et al., 2017, Page 108).  In addition to this cycle of security competition, and the coinciding arms race, states have historically utilized the theory that they can attain security through offensive action to prevent future conflict. Pre-emptive war is as ingrained in war far as back as Sun Tzu’s ancient military strategies. Around 500 B.C. Sun Tzu stated that “standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength” (Tzu, 1910, pg. 68). States would consistently rather conduct conflict away from their civilian populace, on their terms, when conditions permitted.

Manifestations of Conflict

Accepting that human nature’s inherent requirement for safety is projected onto the state, thus driving security competition through weapon development, pre-emptive action and power balancing to ensure a state’s ideological continuance, we can further evaluate the manifestations of this friction. However, the secondary motives are typically very different than the primary pursuit of security. Historically, war has revolved around either a society or people group attempting to apply their beliefs to a fellow society, economic or territorial gain and to obtain independence. We will specifically analyze the variables of economic gain, territorial gain, religious ideals, civil war, revolution and pre-emptive war. 

Territorial and Economic Gain

Historically, the pursuit of territory and resources has been one of the most prominent secondary reasons for conflict. The increase in land and the subsequent resources on that land directly correlates to a state’s power, thus increasing the invading states security. As stated by the Athenians to the Melians in Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War , “besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection,” demonstrating the belief that an invasion to expand territory and conquer people groups enables security (Thucydides, 1810, p. 389).

A modern example would be Russia, who has engaged in illegal annexations in both Ukraine and Georgia for the simple purpose of expanding territory. Related to this example, Waltz states that:

An explanation may be made in terms of geographic or economic deprecations or in terms of deprivations too vaguely defined to be labeled at all. Thus a nation may argue that it has not attained it “natural” frontiers, that such frontiers are necessary to its security, that war to extend the state to its deserved compass is justified or even necessary (Waltz, 2001, pg. 91).

War has historically decided which ideologies dominated (Baylis et al, 2017, pg. 236). The ideologies that have resulted in some of the greatest levels of conflict are those based in religion. The belief in the promise of a specific afterlife has driven people groups to escalate and justify conflict in the name of their ideologies for thousands of year. The desired end state of many of these groups is the secure establishment of a stable society to institute their religion of choice. Just like a government, they need security for stability. The most well know example of religious conflict are the medieval crusades during the 10 th – 12 th centuries. However, even in modern times religious conflict is still prevalent across the globe.

One prominent example of religious based conflict is the persistence of Islamic extremism in the Middle East through violent non-state actors. Many radical Muslims believe in a society defined by a purified Islam, a return to the Islam “practiced and preached by Mohhammed…in the early 7 th century…which would bring with it the diving blessings these early believers enjoyed” (Suarez, 2013, pg. 14). In modern society, these extremists have demonstrated time and time again their willingness to resort to violence to try to achieve this religious goal.

Civil War and Revolution

Marxists, based on the manifesto of Carl Marx, often focus on the domestic conflicts of civil wars that drive states to violence. While their conclusions mostly revolve around class friction it is common for states to have ideological differences within their territorial borders leading to an attempt to establish a majority or revolution through violence. Another significant example of a revolution is the United States’ own Revolutionary War, establishing independence from Great Britain, based on the concept of “no taxation without representation.” In order for the United States to establish their own democracy and create a stable society, based on their ideals, they needed to escalate conflict to the point of war to gain independence.

Even after a revolution is successful or civil war is resolved the lingering ideology may still exist, dormant, in that society, leading to future conflict. Clausewitz stated “even the final decision of a whole War is not always to be regarded as absolute. The conquered State often sees in it only a passing evil, which may be repaired in after times…(Clausewitz et al, 2008, pg. 20).

Preemptive War

One scenario that prematurely escalates conflict is the act of pre-emptive

war. Though a state may want to remain at peace, it may have to consider undertaking a preventive war; for if it does not strike when the moment is favorable it may be struck later when the advantage has shifted to the other side (Waltz, 2001, p. 21). Sun Tzu stated “he will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. He will win who has the military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign” (Tzu, 1910, pg. 68). Any military strategist knows that seizing the initiative and maintaining tempo and audacity on the offensive is one of the most significant advantages in battle. Often these strategies are elevated to the level of the state, where to ensure security, a state strikes first.

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State…it is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or ruin” (Tzu, 1910, pg. 46).

States engage in war to satisfy their human need for safety and security. This allows states to establish stable societies where they can live in status quo with their ideology, religion and culture of choice. The human aspect of society directly reflects in the state and the decisions that state makes. The international body of states, operating with the same human aspects, exists in the anarchic community that exists in constant competition for security through balancing power to ensure their continued existence. Alexander Leighton once said "for world peace we must start on the community level" in that we need to understand regional needs before we can appeal to them in the pursuit of peace (Waltz, 2001, Page 67). On analysis of the inherent flaws in human nature, the only way to effectively target the original source of war is to recognize, target and understand the human nature and needs drive humans to create war. The challenge in addressing this human nature circles us right back to the inherent need for safety. Until individuals can be reasonably assured of their safety and security, without the use of violence, we will continue to escalate conflict to war. Donnelly, M. (Ed.). (2012). Critical conversations about plagiarism (Lenses on composition studies). Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press.

Baylis, J., Owens, P., Smith, S. (2017). The globalization of world politics: An introduction       to international relations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 7th edition. Print.

Marx, K., Engels, F., & Likes, S. (2012). The communist manifesto (Rethinking the western tradition) (J Isaac, Ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. eBook.

Maslow, A. H., (1943). A theory of human motivation . Psychological Review , 50(4), 370-396. doi:10.1037/h0054346.

Qutb, Sayyid. (1964). Milestones , 2nd ed . Damascus, Syria: Dar al-Ilm. eBook.

Soto, H. (2000). The mystery of capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the west and fails everywhere else . New York: Basic Books. eBook.

Suarez-Murias, A. (2013). "Jihad is the way and death for the sake of allah is our highest aspiration": A narrative analysis of sayyid qutb's milestones . Retrieved from

Thucydides, Smith, W., & Crane, T., Rev. (1805). The history of the peloponessian war: Translated from the greek of thucydides, to which are annexed three preliminary discourses (4 th ed./ed., Wol. 1., il., ill, on the life of thucydides. On his qualifications as a historian. a survey of the history) . London: W. Baynes.

Tzu, S., Evans, M., & Giles, L. (2017). The art of war. (Knicker bocker classics). Laguna Hills: Race Point Publishing.

Von Clausewitz, C., Howard, M., & Paret, P. (2008). On war . Princeton: Princeton University Press. eBook.

Waltz, Kenneth. (2001). Man, the state, and war: A theoretical analysis . New York: Columbia University Press. eBook.

About the Author(s)

Kyle Amonson is an active duty Army Major and graduate student at Royal Military College of Canada. Major Amonson received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech and holds a master’s degree in International Relations - International Security from Norwich University. He has deployed in support of various operations throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Opinions expressed in his articles are those of the author's and not those of the U.S. Department of Defense or U.S. Army.

Understanding the causes of…

Understanding the causes of war is a complex endeavor, requiring in-depth analysis and comprehensive theories. For an insightful exploration of this topic, visit . While primarily focused on nursing resources, this platform also provides valuable insights into various subjects. Exploring the theory behind war can deepen our understanding of historical conflicts and foster discussions on peace and diplomacy. Expand your knowledge by delving into the causes of war and contribute to a more peaceful future.

Thanks for this blog, I find…

Thanks for this blog, I find history quite interesting, besides that I am a history college student and besides this blog I use to have the best essays, I buy college paper because I find it more convenient that way because I work and don't have enough time for it, but in general I love to write and read something new!

I find this essay rather…

I find this essay rather conflicted (pun intended).

Firstly, if Capt. Amonson is going to use the structure of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” to explore human motivations that drive war, it should be used in its entirety.  Although basic needs (i.e. access to resources and security) are important, the human needs to belong, for self-esteem, and for self-actualization should not be discounted.   In fact, the drive to satisfy these more advanced or higher needs is invariably found in war, and these motivations tend to attract more support for war among a population than appeal to basic needs.  Despite the economic and security rationales behind the German war effort in the Second World War (creating a fully self-sufficient/autarkic and secure German Empire in Eurasia), Germany fought the war on a primarily ideological basis and regarded both the final victory and final solution as the actualization of Germany as a nation.  During the American Civil War, the abolition of slavery became the “Higher Object” that motivated the United States to fight for total victory and overcome a lack of morale, poor tactical leadership, and both confusion and dissension regarding the aims of the war as well as the war itself.  Even during the Second World War, when the rather obvious need to survive should have been the prime mover, the Allied states motivated their populations by appeals to these higher needs (e.g. Churchill’s rousing speeches, Stalin’s “Great Patriotic War”, the American “Why We Fight”).  In addition, the Western Allies glossed over their differences with the Soviet Union and Soviet collaboration with Germany for the first two years of the war, despite the basic necessity of cooperating with rivals and adversaries in the interests of security.  In addition, one cannot dismiss the romance of war for individuals who had not served or for those who had and were exhilarated by it (e.g. Churchill, again): military service fulfilled many men’s needs for belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.  Rather than see Maslow’s hierarchy as a pyramid, perhaps a more dynamic perspective is required...

Secondly, the historical references in this essay are rather cursory.  Russia did not invade Georgia or Ukraine for territorial expansion, and Georgia was invaded as part of a counteroffensive against a Georgian attack on South Ossetia.  In both cases, Russia wanted people not territory, and additionally it sought to prevent the incorporation of either country into Western security (NATO) or supranational (EU) structures.  I find it curious that Capt. Amonson refers to the Crusades in the 10th to 12th Centuries, but not the Muslim Conquests of the 7th to 8th Centuries, which ended six-hundred or more years of Christianity, twelve-hundred years of Judaism, and millennia of other Mediterranean and Near Eastern belief systems. The Mediterranean was the center of the West and of Christendom until the Muslim Conquest, with the northern coast of Africa, Egypt, the Levant, and Mesopotamia as integral as Iberia, Italy, Greece, and Anatolia; and Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem as integral as Rome and Constantinople. 

Thirdly, there should be a distinction made between ‘power to’ and ‘power over’.  There is a difference between waging a war in self-defense (e.g. against external invasion or internal oppression) or self-determination (e.g. independence, freedom), and waging a war to impose oneself on others, whether foreign or domestic.  The contemporary popular narrative of Islamism is curious in this regard as Muslims are perceived as victims of Christian European empires, when in fact Muslim empires were fierce competitors for superiority if not supremacy, and only ceased being a state threat to the West in the early 20th Century.  Both secular Arab Nationalism and Islamism are in fact responses not to oppression by the West, but to the loss of empire.  In Northern Ireland, the Catholic Republicans included: separatist supremacists who wanted a united Ireland where Protestant Unionists were subject to tyranny of the majority; separatist egalitarians, who wanted a united Ireland with equal treatment for all; and integrationist egalitarians, who wanted equal treatment whether in a united Ireland or as part of the UK.  Eventually, the “Troubles” came to an end after some thirty years due to appeal to the integrationist egalitarians, who were the vast majority of Catholic Republicans, who had campaigned unsuccessfully for equal treatment prior to the “Troubles”, and whose verifiable oppression had driven the formation of non-state militant organizations (e.g. the PIRA, INLA, etc.).  Yet Muslims are not and have not been subject to verifiable oppression by the West, and in fact it is Westerners themselves who are integrationist and egalitarian.  At best Islamists want to be separate but equal; at worst they want to be supreme (i.e. ‘power over’). 

First World War: Causes and Effects Essay

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The causes of world war one, the effects of the war.

World War one seems like an ancient history with many cases of compelling wars to many people, but amazingly, it became known as the Great War because of influence it caused. It took place across European colonies and their surrounding seas between August 1914 and December 1918 (Tuchman, 2004). Almost sixty million troops mobilized for the war ended up in crippling situations.

For instance, more than eight million died and over thirty million people injured in the struggle. The war considerably evolved with the economic, political, cultural and social nature of Europe. Nations from the other continents also joined the war making it worse than it was.

Over a long period, most countries in Europe made joint defense treaties that would help them in battle if the need arose. This was for defense purposes. For instance, Russia linked with Serbia, Germany with Austria-Hungary, France with Russia, and Japan with Britain (Tuchman, 2004).

The war started with the declaration of war on Serbia by Austria-Hungary. This later led to the entry of countries allied to Serbia into the war so as to protect their partners.

Imperialism is another factor that led to the First World War. Many European countries found expansion of their territories enticing.

Before World War One, most European countries considered parts of Asia and Africa as their property because they were highly productive. European nations ended up in confrontations among themselves due to their desire for more wealth from Africa and Asia. This geared the whole world into war afterwards.

Competition to produce more weapons compared to other countries also contributed to the beginning of World War One. Many of the European nations established themselves well in terms of military capacity and eventually sought for war to prove their competence.

Desire for nationalism by the Serbians also played a crucial role in fueling the war. Failure to come to an agreement about Bosnia and Herzegovina led the countries to war. Both countries wanted to prove their supremacy.

Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Austria-Hungary sparked the war. Tuchman (2004) reveals that the Serbians assassinated Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914 while protesting to the control of Sarajevo by Austria-Hungary. The assassination led to war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. This led to mobilization of Russian troops in preparation for war.

The already prepared Germany immediately joined the war against Russia and France. On the other hand, Russians declared war on Austria and Germany. The invasion of the neutral Belgium by Germany triggered Britain to declare war against Germans.

Earlier, Britain had promised to defend Belgium against any attack. The British entered France with the intention of stopping the advancement of Germany. This intensified the enmity among the countries involved (Tuchman, 2004).

Tuchman (2004) argues that the French together with their weak allies held off the fighting in Paris and adopted trench warfare. The French had decided to defend themselves from the trenches instead of attacking. This eventually gave them the victory.

Although The British had the largest number of fleet in the world by the end of 1914, they could not end the First World War. The Germans had acquired a well-equipped fleet. This helped them advance the war to 1915. However, many countries participating in the war began to prepare for withdrawal from the conflict. The war had changed the social roles in many of the countries involved.

For instance, women in Britain performed duties initially considered masculine so as to increase their income (Tuchman, 2004). In the Western Front, the innovated gas weapons killed many people. In the Eastern Front, Bulgaria joined Austria-Hungary as the central power leading to more attacks in Serbia and Russia. Italy too joined the war and fought with the allied forces.

The British seized German ports in 1916. This led to severe shortage of food in Germany. The shortages encountered by the Germans led to food riots in many of the German towns. The Germans eventually adopted submarine warfare. With the help of this new tactic, they targeted Lusitania, one of the ships from America.

This led to the loss of many lives, including a hundred Americans, prompting America to join the war. On 1stJuly the same year, over twenty thousand people died and forty thousand injured. However, in the month of May the same year, the British managed to cripple the German fleet and eventually take control of the sea (Tuchman, 2004).

The year 1917 marked a remarkable change in Germany. Attempts to convince Mexico to invade the United States proved futile. Germany eventually lost due to lack of sufficient aid from their already worn-out allies. Towards the end of 1918, British food reserves became exhausted. This reduced the intensity of the warfare against Germans. It was in this same year that they established “Women Army Auxiliary Corps”.

It placed women on the forefront in the battlefield for the first time. On the Western Front, the Germans weakness eventually led to their defeat. The war came to an end. The British eventually emerged the superior nation among all the European nations.

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles on twenty eighth June 1919 between the Allied powers and Germany officially ended the war. Other treaties signed later contributed to the enforcement of peace among nations involved in the war (Tuchman, 2004).

First World War outlined the beginning of the modern era; it had an immense impact on the economic and political status of many countries. European countries crippled their economies while struggling to manufacture superior weapons. The Old Russian Empire replaced by a socialist system led to loss of millions of people.

The known Austro-Hungarian Empire and old Holy Roman Empire became extinct. The drawing of Middle East and Europe maps led to conflicts in the present time. The League of Nations formed later contributed significantly in solving international conflicts.

In Britain, a class system arose demarcating the lower class from the advantaged class whereas, in France the number of men significantly reduced (Tuchman, 2004). This led to sharing of the day to day tasks between men and women. First World War also caused the merger of cultures among nations. Poets and authors portray this well. Many people also ended up adopting the western culture and neglecting their own.

In conclusion, the First World War led to the loss of many lives. These included soldiers and innocent citizens of the countries at war. The First World War also led to extensive destruction of property. The infrastructure and buildings in many towns crumbled. It contributed to displacement of people from their homes. Many people eventually lost their land.

The loss of land and displacement of people has substantially contributed to the current conflicts among communities and nations. However, the First World War paved way to the establishment of organizations that ensured that peace prevailed in the world. It also led to the advancement of science and technology. It led to the realization that women too could perform masculine tasks.

Tuchman, W. B. (2004). The Guns of August : New York: Random House Publishing Group.

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Home — Essay Samples — History — Civil War — Causes of the Civil War


Causes of The Civil War

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Published: Jan 30, 2024

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Table of contents

Economic factors, political factors, social factors, the role of leadership.

  • McPherson, J. M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford University Press.
  • Goldfield, D. R. (2005). America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. Bloomsbury Press.

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Causes Of War And Conflict (Essay Sample)

War has continuously been part of human history since before its documentation existed, and it presently exists becoming more severe and destructive as industrialization and advancement of technology occasions. War is the clash of interests among citizens of a country, parties and countries against others by the use of force, resulting in minimal or massive destruction and loss of lives. War and conflict occasions due to several reasons as discussed below.

The primary cause of war and conflict is economic gains. All countries always want to control territories where numerous expensive resources are present. In most cases, these resources reside in other nations and its access is impossible. Therefore, to have access to them, countries invade others and instigate wars, in most situations often disguised, to take control of other’s wealth and to satisfy their shortage of said resources. Among the resources fought for, include gold, silver, and livestock in the early days and oil, minerals and manufacturing products in present times. For instance, the presence of oil fueled the Gulf War of 1990 to 1991. Politics is another key contributor to the onset of war and conflict. Different governments hold extreme views different from other governments. These views in most cases create rifts, disagreements, and lack of cooperation among countries when one declines to agree with another or fail to consider the other country’s opinion. Thus, when collaboration and agreement fail country’s cause to war as a measure to publicize their stand. For example, in World War II, the Germans invaded Poland, thereby consequencing Britain to join the fight in support of Poland who was their allies.

Religion influences the onset of various wars and conflicts. In a world full of different faiths, there lies different rules, regulations, beliefs, and views. Different religions obey different gods such as God for Christians and the bible, Allah for Muslims and the Koran among others. The diverse views and observation of the society often lead to conflicts because of the different religious groups failing to exercise tolerance and understanding of each other and instead, question and challenge other religions. For example, The Crusades war came up through the attempt of the Catholic Church trying to restore their right of entry to holy places in Jerusalem.

Nationalism is the belief that countries accrue profits by acting independently instead of working together and asserting their dominance among others. Nationalism provokes war and conflict by countries inciting others to violence in particular through invasion. Since they do not want other countries to dictate to them what to do or share with them, they, therefore, opt to suppress other nations by imposing their will on them hence, provoking war. For instance, the Second World War and the Cold war between Russia and America.

The historical rivalry continuously accentuates war and conflict. Some countries have for a long time failed to solve their long-standing differences with each. England and Scotland for example, whose rivalry began between the Scottish Kingdom and the Anglo-Saxon kingdom, have had a long-standing rivalry. The lack of peace between them government after government leads to these countries carrying forward these differences and making more along the way. As a result, the disagreements have caused several wars perceived as payback for previous grievances that in turn attract retaliation thereby creating endless attacks back and forth.

War is conflict occasioning from the use of force and weaponry between countries and states. Humankind has continuously depicted war as part and always will be part of its nature. When aspects such as economic dominance, religion, politics, nationalism, history, and perceptiveness create differences among them, they become the fueling aspects of warfare.

causes of war essay


Essay on War and Its Effects

Students are often asked to write an essay on War and Its Effects in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on War and Its Effects


War is a state of armed conflict between different countries or groups within a country. It’s a destructive event that causes loss of life and property.

The Devastation of War

Wars cause immense destruction. Buildings, homes, and infrastructure are often destroyed, leaving people homeless. The loss of resources makes it hard to rebuild.

The human cost of war is huge. Many people lose their lives or get injured. Families are torn apart, and children often lose their parents.

Psychological Impact

War can cause severe psychological trauma. Soldiers and civilians may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

War has devastating effects on people and societies. It’s important to promote peace and understanding to prevent wars.

250 Words Essay on War and Its Effects

War, a term that evokes immediate images of destruction and death, has been a persistent feature of human history. The consequences are multifaceted, influencing not only the immediate physical realm but also the socio-economic and psychological aspects of society.

Physical Impact

The most direct and visible impact of war is the physical destruction. Infrastructure, homes, and natural resources are often destroyed, leading to a significant decline in the quality of life. Moreover, the loss of human lives is immeasurable, creating a vacuum in societies that is hard to fill.

Socio-Economic Consequences

War also has profound socio-economic effects. Economies are crippled as resources are diverted towards war efforts, leading to inflation, unemployment, and poverty. Social structures are disrupted, with families torn apart and communities displaced.

Psychological Effects

Perhaps the most enduring impact of war is psychological. The trauma of violence and loss can have long-term effects on mental health, leading to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder. Society at large also suffers, with the collective psyche marked by fear and mistrust.

In conclusion, war leaves an indelible mark on individuals and societies. Its effects are far-reaching and long-lasting, extending beyond the immediate physical destruction to touch every aspect of life. As we continue to study and understand these impacts, it underscores the importance of pursuing peace and conflict resolution.

500 Words Essay on War and Its Effects

War, an organized conflict between two or more groups, has been a part of human history for millennia. Its effects are profound and far-reaching, influencing political, social, and economic aspects of societies. Understanding the impact of war is crucial to comprehend the intricacies of global politics and human behavior.

The Political Impact of War

War significantly alters the political landscape of nations. It often leads to changes in leadership, shifts in power dynamics, and amendments in legal systems. For instance, World War II resulted in the downfall of fascist regimes in Germany and Italy, giving rise to democratic governments. However, war can also destabilize nations, creating power vacuums that may lead to further conflicts, as seen in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Social Consequences of War

Societies bear the brunt of war’s destructive nature. The loss of life, displacement of people, and the psychological trauma inflicted upon populations are some of the direct social effects. Indirectly, war also affects societal structures and relationships. It can lead to changes in gender roles, as seen during World War I and II where women took on roles traditionally held by men, leading to significant shifts in gender dynamics.

Economic Ramifications of War

Economically, war can have both destructive and stimulating effects. On one hand, it leads to the destruction of infrastructure, depletion of resources, and interruption of trade. On the other, it can stimulate economic growth through increased production and technological advancements. The economic boom in the United States during and after World War II is an example of war-induced economic stimulation.

The Psychological Impact of War

War leaves a deep psychological imprint on those directly and indirectly involved. Soldiers and civilians alike suffer from conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Moreover, societies as a whole can experience collective trauma, impacting future generations. The psychological scars of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings continue to affect Japanese society today.

In conclusion, war is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon with profound effects that can shape nations and societies in significant ways. Its impacts are not confined to the battlefield but reach deep into the political, social, economic, and psychological fabric of societies. Therefore, understanding its effects is not only essential for historians and political scientists but also for anyone interested in the complexities of human societies and their evolution.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

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causes of war essay


After Trump’s Conviction, a Wary World Waits for the Fallout

Already braced for uncertainty about the U.S. election, countries in Europe and Asia are now even more unclear about the future of American diplomacy.

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Mr. Trump, in a dark blue suit and bright blue tie, walks past metal police barricades with a group of other men.

By Hannah Beech and Paul Sonne

  • May 31, 2024

The world does not vote in American presidential elections. Nor do its jurors play a part in the American judicial system. Nevertheless, the conviction of Donald J. Trump on all 34 felony counts in a hush-money trial in a New York court on Thursday has again made clear how consequential what happens in the United States is for the rest of the planet.

Many America-watchers are grappling with the same questions posed by people in the United States: Can Mr. Trump still run for president? (Yes.) And if so, will the guilty verdicts cut into the support from his political base? (Unclear.)

Foreign observers also began wondering if Mr. Trump, already a volatile force, would become even less likely to stay within the guardrails of normal politics and diplomacy if he won the presidency again in November.

Mr. Trump’s supporters in anti-immigrant, right-wing nationalist circles abroad quickly jumped to his defense. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Kremlin-friendly prime minister, called Mr. Trump “a man of honor” in a post on X and said the American people should deliver their own verdict in November.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and the leader of the hard-right League party, expressed “solidarity and full support,” and called Mr. Trump a “victim of judicial harassment.”

“This verdict is a disgrace,” Nigel Farage, the pro-Brexit campaigner and Trump supporter, who is honorary president of Reform UK, a small right-wing party in Britain, wrote on social media. “Trump will now win big.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia did not immediately respond to the verdict but has seized on the situation more broadly to undermine American influence. Mr. Putin last year called the various proceedings against Mr. Trump political “ persecution ” and said they had revealed the “rottenness of the American political system, which cannot pretend to teach others about democracy.”

His spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, reiterated the point on Friday in response to the verdict, saying it was clear to the entire world that the U.S. authorities were trying to eliminate political rivals “by all possible legal and illegal means.”

The convictions by a Manhattan jury come as the question of American engagement has become central in several global crises.

In Ukraine, the war effort against Russia has been stymied after Republicans in Congress delayed American military aid for months.

In Europe, leaders reliant on the United States for their defense are jittery about a return to a more acrimonious relationship with Washington and a possible withdrawal of American support for hardening defenses against Russia.

In Asia, where the Biden administration perceives a growing Chinese threat and worries about a possible invasion of Taiwan, American allies are concerned about the sanctity of defense treaties that have long girded the regional security order.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has said he would encourage Russia to attack any NATO member that doesn’t pay sufficiently for its defense and has questioned whether the United States should defend South Korea, a treaty ally that hosts a large American military presence. He is considering the Ohio senator J.D. Vance, one of Washington’s most vociferous opponents of military aid for Ukraine, as a possible running mate.

Foreign analysts worry that Mr. Trump’s favored currency, unpredictability, could again shake up the global order.

Concern about his possible return to the White House is particularly palpable in Germany, the object of Mr. Trump’s ire for much of his first term and the host of more than 35,000 U.S. troops.

Andrea Römmele, vice president of the Hertie School, a public policy-focused graduate school in Berlin, said many Germans watching the Trump verdict were relieved to see that even a former president was not above the law in the United States. But she said Germans remained very anxious about a Trump victory.

“I think everyone is much more prepared to think the unthinkable,” she said.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, whose right-wing domestic opponents accuse him of using the judiciary to settle political scores, hailed the conviction of Mr. Trump in New York as “an American lesson” for Polish politicians.

“The law determines guilt and punishment, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a president or a minister,” Mr. Tusk said in a message posted on X. A veteran centrist, Mr. Tusk took office after an October election that ousted a nationalist government that cultivated close ties with Mr. Trump during and after his time in the White House.

Still, on Friday, most foreign governments, forced to surf every shift in the American political mood, reacted cautiously.

“I would like to refrain from commenting on matters related to judicial procedures in other countries,” Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said at a news conference in Tokyo on Friday.

In Britain, where a national election campaign is underway, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to discuss the Trump case. His Labour Party opponent, Keir Starmer, a former top prosecutor, said he respected the court’s decision and called the situation unprecedented.

“Ultimately whether he is elected president will be a matter for the American people and obviously, if we’re privileged to come in to serve, we would work with whoever they choose as their president,” Mr. Starmer told BBC Radio Scotland.

Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, declined to comment on the verdict. She said she hoped whoever was elected president would “be committed to developing healthy and stable China-U. S. relations.”

The possibility of Mr. Trump’s return to the White House is a source of anxiety for U.S. allies in Asia that rely on Washington for their defense.

When Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan made a state visit to Washington in April, President Biden called relations between the countries the most important bilateral alliance in the world. With American concern rising over China’s expanding military footprint, Mr. Biden has strengthened American defense partnerships with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and others in Asia.

By contrast, while president, Mr. Trump called for Japan, which hosts more than 50,000 American troops on its soil, to pay $8 billion for the upkeep of American bases there. (It never happened.)

Still, the fundamental tension in regional geopolitics — the contest between the United States and China — will continue no matter who wins the American presidential election.

“Beijing has no illusion about Trump or Biden, given their anti-China solid stance,” said Lau Siu-kai, an adviser to the Chinese government on Hong Kong policy. “Beijing is all set for a more intense confrontation with the U.S. over technology, trade and Taiwan.”

Officials in China’s embassy in the United States and its consulates around the country are most likely scrambling to assess how the verdict could affect the election, said Willy Lam, an analyst of Chinese politics at the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.

“The majority of Xi Jinping’s advisers now think a Trump presidency might be worse for U.S.-China relations,” Mr. Lam said of China’s top leader. “If Trump were to win, given the now peculiar circumstances of his victory, he might gravitate towards unpredictable actions to assert his authority.”

There is a sense in Asia that the region is perennially overlooked and underappreciated by U.S. presidents, particularly as crises in Europe and the Middle East have monopolized Mr. Biden’s attention. That sentiment was also felt acutely during Mr. Trump’s presidency, and for American partners in Asia it was made worse by his affinity for regional strongmen.

In addition to occasional expressions of admiration for Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un of North Korea, Mr. Trump invited to the White House a former army chief who led a coup in Thailand and installed himself as prime minister. Mr. Trump drew accolades from Rodrigo Duterte, formerly the president of the Philippines and now under investigation by the International Criminal Court over his deadly war on drugs.

The Philippines is now led by the son of the longtime dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, who died in exile in Hawaii. He has reoriented the country away from China back toward the United States.

In at least one regard — the prosecution of former leaders — the rest of the world is far ahead of the United States. South Korea, where four former presidents have been convicted of corruption and abuse of power, has made something of a national sport of imprisoning disgraced leaders. The former French presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac were convicted of corruption.

Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, has been charged with money laundering, among other crimes. And Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sentenced to years in prison for corruption after leading Brazil. His convictions were eventually annulled. He is again president of the country.

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle, Elisabetta Povoledo, Roger Cohen, Zixu Wang, Andrew Higgins, Camille Elemia , Choe Sang-Hun , Motoko Rich , Alexandra Stevenson , Sui-Lee Wee and Sameer Yasir .

An earlier version of this article misstated the length of Rodrigo Duterte’s term in office. It was six years, not eight years.

How we handle corrections

Hannah Beech is a Times reporter based in Bangkok who has been covering Asia for more than 25 years. She focuses on in-depth and investigative stories. More about Hannah Beech

Paul Sonne is an international correspondent, focusing on Russia and the varied impacts of President Vladimir V. Putin’s domestic and foreign policies, with a focus on the war against Ukraine. More about Paul Sonne

Our Coverage of the Trump Hush-Money Trial

Guilty Verdict : Donald Trump was convicted on all 34 counts  of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened his bid for the White House in 2016, making him the first American president to be declared a felon .

What Happens Next: Trump’s sentencing hearing on July 11 will trigger a long and winding appeals process , though he has few ways to overturn the decision .

Reactions: Trump’s conviction reverberated quickly across the country  and around the world . Here’s what voters , New Yorkers , Republicans , Trump supporters  and President Biden  had to say.

The Presidential Race : The political fallout of Trump’s conviction is far from certain , but the verdict will test America’s traditions, legal institutions and ability to hold an election under historic partisan tension .

Making the Case: Over six weeks and the testimony of 20 witnesses, the Manhattan district attorney’s office wove a sprawling story  of election interference and falsified business records.

Legal Luck Runs Out: The four criminal cases that threatened Trump’s freedom had been stumbling along, pleasing his advisers. Then his good fortune expired .


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