The Causes of International Conflict

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International Conflict Power Point

I. Introduction

1. War is as ancient as humanity and has been studied seriously by human beings for almost as long

2. According to Ray and Kaarbo (2009: 177), there have only been 292 years without war since 3600 BCE and that since 1816 every decade has averaged around 22 wars. They add that over 150M have died from war-related deaths since 3000 BCE, though approximately 96% of those deaths have occurred in the last 400 years (1500-2000).

a. War Definitions

(1) According to Kegley and Wittkopf, (2008: 409) war is “a condition arising w/n states (civil war) OR b/n states (interstate war) when actors use violent means to destroy their opponents or coerce them into submission”

(2) Ray and Kaarbo (2009: 177) disaggregate war into two components:

i. interstate wars: wars b/n states

ii. internal, or intrastate, wars: civil wars within states

(3) Turetzky (October 6, 2009: 234pm) notes that the COW Project at the University of Michigan defines interstate war as a conflict between at least two states resulting in at least 1000 battlefield casualties...

3. Amazingly, when looking at world history, statistics show (Cioffi-Revilla 1996) that the world has been totally FREE of significant interstate, colonial, or civil war in only 1 out of every 12 years in ALL of recorded history

4. Looking again at figure 6.1 in the Ray and Kaarbo text (p. 177), we can see that a staggering 150M people have died during the wars since the year 1000—75% in the 20th century and 89% since 1800

5. Ray and Kaarbo (p. 177) add something really chilling to their catalogue of horrors: 90% of all war related casualties in recent decades (ie since WWII) have been civilians; sadly many of the civilian deaths are children. The UN estimates that in the last ten years more than 2 million children have died in armed conflicts...

5. Severity: During WWI, 8.4M soldiers and 1.4M civilians died; during WWII 16.9M soldiers and 34.3M civilians died (so you can see civilians were more of a target since WWI—ratio of soldiers to civilians killed went from 6:1 in WWI to 1:2 by WWII)

6. According to K&W (p412), interestingly, armed conflict has become increasingly concentrated in the 3rd world…since 1945, 9 out of every 10 wars have been in the weak or failed states of the Global South (Worldwatch 1999 database diskette)

7. Since 1990, most armed conflicts have occurred in Asia and Africa—regions w/the largest # of countries, largest populations, and LOWEST levels of incomes

8. On the other hand, according to Fareed Zakaria (2009: pp8-9), the world feels "very dangerous...but it isn't. Your chances of dying as a consequence of organized violence of any kind are low and getting lower. The data reveal a broad trend away from wars amoung major countries, the kind of conflict that produces massive casualties."

9. Ted Robert Gurr (2005) concurs, arguing that "the general magnitude of global warfare has decreased by over sixty percent [since the mid-1980s], falling by the end of 2004 to its lowest level since the late 1950s."

10. Zakaria suggests that violence peaked just before the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and has steadily decreased since then.

11. Harvard Sociology professor Steven Pinker (2007) argues "that today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence"

12. Obviously war isn't obsolete, bloody wars between major powers may yet be fought, and human nature still often regresses to solving conflicts through the application of force (see especially the bloodbath that took place in Yugoslavia in the early to mid-1990s as well as the genocides taking place in Rwanda [1995], Sudan [ongoing], and Congo [1994-2005], among others for confirmation that humans are still prone to violence) BUT in the grand historical sweep of time, the times we are living in right now are unusually calm...

13. In this lecture , we examine the causes of war from all 3 levels of analysis—what the great, seminal scholar of international relations Kenneth Waltz (1959) calls the three images of war--the individual, the state, and the international system             

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-Professor Kenneth Waltz

-Conversation with Kenneth Waltz at UC Berkeley

II. The First Level of Analysis: Human Nature or Individual Leaders?

A. Human Nature Arguments re: the Causes of War

1. John Rourke and Mark Boyer (2009: 244-245), suggest two explanations at this level--the nature of the human species OR beliefs and behavior of individual leaders

2. Sigmund Freud argued that aggression is simply an instinctive part of human nature that stems from humans’ genetic programming and psychological makeup

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B. Individual Leader Arguments re: the Causes of War

III. The Second Level of Analysis: States’ Internal Characteristics

A. Poverty/Level of Economic Development

B. Type of Government

C. Type of Economy

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-Vlad "the impaler" Lenin!!!                                         -Leon Trotsky the younger

1. There are several variations to this idea...

a. Marxist theorists of war (Trotsky and Lenin in particular) argue that capitalist economies are inherently war like and conflict prone. They argue that capitalist states are inherently war like b/c they need to conquer other lands to secure markets, cheap labor and access to raw materials.

b. Dependency theorists argue along the same lines that capitalist states use imperialism--ie conquest--to make smaller, weaker, resource or labor rich 3rd world states dependent vassals...

c. On the other hand, many argue that capitalist states are LESS likely to want war b/c it gets in the way of doing business, gets in the way of the global supply chain, and disrupts markets, trade, and generates political and economic instability...

d. Ray and Kaarbo (190) make the points that not all capitalist states have engaged in imperialism, that war has been around longer than capitalist economic systems, and that wars between capitalist states were not fought for economic reasons...

e. They also make the point that centrally planned economies may be more inherently war prone b/c they are very often (ie see Bulgaria, North Korea, Cuba, etc) isolated economically and therefore will not hurt their economy as much as war can shrink the profits of capitalist states involved in wars...

IV. The Third Level of Analysis: The Global Level System

A. Power Transition Theory

1. According to Power Transition (PT)theorists like Jacek Kugler, Ken Organski, and Doug Lemke (my former professor), when changes occur in the world’s most powerful countries’ military capabilities look out: major power wars have often been the result

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B. Long Cycle Theory


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Last updated: October 11, 2011
Please email mturetzky@gavilan.edu  for questions or comments