5 Jun 2022


Theoretical Causes of War and Conflict

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Academic level: College

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War is a conflict between nations or states carried out by armed forces due to a clash of interests. It is sustained, coordinated violence between political organizations characterized by extreme violence, destruction and mortality that results in massive civilian suffering and casualties ( Betts, 2017) . War and conflicts take several forms and may be an inevitable feature of global politics. They are mostly costly and can result in severe consequences for the country and its people. However, there is always a concern about why wars occur and explanations as to why states decide to engage in combat with other nations. This paper seeks to explain the causes of war by focusing on the theoretical aspects of war and conflict. In essence, it focuses on the rationalist explanations of the war as the causes of international conflict. 

There are plenty of reasons why people and nations go to war that is explained in several theories of war. There are many causes of war, with a majority associated with the changing relations between different countries. In politics, conflicts occur when two or more groups engage in a struggle over values, resources or territory ( Van Evera, 2013) . Several theories have been developed in the recent years to explain the causes of in the international scene and creating a foundation for understanding conflicts. The rationalist theory of war is the best description of the causes of global conflict that explains the reasons and justifications for states to engage in disputes ( Betts, 2017) . It is based on the idea that conflict is an inherent attribute of human beings who are bound to protect their interests from others. Realists and other scholars hold that rationally led states to engage in war when no peaceful bargains exist, which means they both prefer to battle for the resources. The rationalist and realistic explanations of the conflict focuses on how rational leaders lead their countries to war and the reasons for choosing fight over bargaining for negotiated settlements ( Amadae, 2003)

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There are many different ongoing international conflicts in the world right now, with some threatening to plunge into a full-blown war. Other causes of wars such as the World War, cold war and several inter-state conflicts often raise questions on the underlying causes of these battles. The rationalist theory of war can be used to explain the origins of war based on several other reasons such as economic and territorial gain, nationalism or defensive combat ( Amadae, 2003) . This rational explanation of war explains why a majority of countries decide to engage others in a battle over territories, economic resources or any other shared resources. For example, some countries engage in territorial war in looking to gain more land or for financial gain in trade and businesses, or to protect their sovereign state ( Levy & Thompson, 2011)

Countries engage in war when it needs more land for several purposes or when it is fighting for a territory that was snatched from them. A good example is when Iran and Syria keep fighting the ISIS over territories seized from them by the terrorist group. This has been an ongoing battle that has led to numerous casualties over control of lands. Other wars are fought over economic gains when a country has a financial motive in fighting another country ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . In modern times, countries may engage in conflicts with others due to minerals such as oil that affects the ability to negotiate and come to a bargain. Wars are also fought over basic issues and necessities such as water for fishing zones that no state wants to relinquish. A notable example of battles for economic gains was the Finish-Soviet War in 1939-1940 between Stalin who led a Soviet army to get nickel from Finland but faced opposition from the Finnish. 

Nationalism is always a factor when it comes to international wars and conflicts as a country seek to protect its nation’s spirit. Therefore, while wars can be fought for reasons of security and material interests, the issue of national interest always takes precedence ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . For example, the First World War was challenged based on nationalism, as countries became involved in the war due to extreme loyalty and patriotism. These many examples of wars and conflicts can be explained by the rationalist theory of war, which states that leaders will lead their countries to fight as a rational choice to protect their sovereign ( Amadae, 2003)

The war between Turkey and Syria explains this rationalist concept of war that has seen the two countries fighting over control of a buffer land. In this case study, Turkey has been moving into northwestern Syria, attacking the district known as Afrin to capture the piece of land considered part of their territory. They are carrying out this operation as a way of protecting their sovereignty for the interest of the nation. Their action into Syria is entirely rational in terms of how Turkey views the war in Syria and its impact on their security. They are also acting rationally because of Turkey’s geography, identity and problematic history with great powers, thus seeking to protect the sovereignty of its state. At the same time, the war in the East China Sea between China and Japan can be explained by the rationalist theory of war. This conflict is being fought over the control of the East Sea, though no country is willing to go full combat due to the risk of losing their economic prowess. 

In essence, the rationalist theory of war states that the war is rational if it is done in the interest of the state. This theory also holds that conflict and war emerge when nations fail to achieve a peaceful bargain and see this as the only option of controlling their territories ( Amadae, 2003) . The structure of international systems, according to rationalist theory, is the basis of international order and also a cause of conflict. People and particularly state leaders are naturally irrational, which means then engage in biases that often makes them neglect the associated costs of engaging in a war. 

The rationalist arguments of why wars occur include several factors including anarchy, lack of information and miscalculations, expected benefits and costs, preventive war, as well as disagreements about relative power. These are the major components of the rationalist theory of war and international conflict that explain why states and countries engage in battles ( Betts, 2017) . It is also based on failing to bargain on negotiated settlements as state leaders choose war as the most viable option. Leaders of a country fail to bargain in stopping the conflict or war due to these factors, as discussed below. 

Anarchy is implicated as a cause of wars and international conflicts for states that do not have anyone for accountability, A lack of a central power to enforce law means states can start wars without anyone standing in place to prevent it. This means countries settle their conflicts by force without a supreme authority to stop them or sanction their operations ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . A good number of international conflicts and wars have reflected this anarchy theory of rationalism, with countries such as Russia and North Korea threatening to stage a fight with the United States over diplomacy issues. The argument on anarchy presents the difference between domestic and international politics regarding a central government that reprises any potential violence. 

The condition of anarchy has accounted for numerous cases of wars and international conflicts in the world. It is used to explain the causes of wars and why they are bound to recur. While this lack of supreme authority does not prevent a government from bargaining negotiated agreements, but it allows states to exercise their powers without accounting for anyone ( Van Evera, 2013) . Under anarchy, a state’s effort to secure itself can have undesired effects on making another country less secure. In essence, anarchy and security dilemma tends to foster regional competition among states, which is a recipe for international conflicts and wars. 

Kenneth Waltz wrote a book on the anarchical nature of wars and conflicts in the international politics when discussing the rational theory of causes of war. This is a state where there is no supreme authority in the world to make and enforce the law, which means nothing can prevent war from occurring ( Amadae, 2003) . Anarchy works in the sense that the central government within a state helps to control violence because it has stat power to keep people in check. However, the same does not exist in the international realm, where central authority has control over all states. As a result, governments and states have the power to use war in solving conflicts because there is no monopoly of power to punish them for their decisions. According to most international theories, the world is anarchic, and there is no significant power to control the system ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . In this regard, aggressive leaders and expansionist states can plat a factor in starting a war with no one to stop them. 

Secondly, the rationalistic theory of war believes war emerges when states engage in preventive actions to protect their lands and territories ( Levy, 1998) . This situation occurs mainly when the rising power of another state threatens a country as it declines in power due to fear of being vulnerable to the increasing energy. Preventive war works in the sense that a country expecting to be attacked by rising power stages, a fight to preserve its control of a territory. It is a possible cause of international conflict and wars among countries competing for power and resources ( Betts, 2017) . For example, Northern Ireland went to war with the other part of Ireland since it did not want to be part of the United Kingdom and wanted to form a sovereign government. Similarly, Turkish forces have been entering the region in Northern Syria due to the conflicting interests in the region. The president of Turkey is focused on restoring the democratic structure in this region by sending immigrated Syrians back to their homes as a rational choice which cannot be settled through bargaining. 

There is another rational theory explanation of war, which touches on the expected benefits of the war, outweighing the effects of engaging in the battle. This concept is based on the assumption that countries will engage in a war after calculating the positive utility of participating in the war. According to rational theorists, countries will start a fight when they have weighed the benefits over costs and stand to benefit from the expected utility ( Amadae, 2003) . In most cases, there is a likelihood of war when the offence has an advantage, and the battle will help the country than affect it. The positive expected utility is an element of a rational theory of war that assumes war occurs when conflicting parties compare the benefits of engaging in a combat with the associated costs. According to this theory, war is considered rational when both sides have positive expected utility and negotiations or bargaining will not change their preemptive states. This means the benefits of remaining at peace with each other are less than the expected positives of engaging in the battle or conflict. Furthermore, the expected utility argument on the causes of war and conflict argues that such states do not agree to participate in any negotiated settlement ( Betts, 2017) . They prefer to engage in combat as opposed to bargaining for a negotiated settlement. 

The lack of information and misrepresenting information about the capability of a country is another explanation for their rational choice of starting a war. Rational leaders may fail to reach a bargain for settling conflicts or wars due to lack of information, which often creates miscalculation in resolving the issues. The rationalist theory of war states that governments will lead their countries to fight if they lack knowledge of its effect or a better-negotiated settlement ( Amadae, 2003) . It says that leaders engage in combat after failing to participate in a negotiation or bargain. The lack of knowledge and information means the country will not reach a real agreement that could bring a conflict to an end. Furthermore, rationalist theories of international war and conflict argue that countries may engage in a fight due to rational miscalculations. This argument is based on the fact that states may lack knowledge or information regarding the war ( Amadae, 2003)

Rationalism is often perceived as a midpoint in the war between the theories of realism and internationalism. The rationalism theory of war is based on the need to protect the sovereignty of a state ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . It believes independence is crucial in determining the position of a country regarding their territories and shapes international relations and world order by identifying whether a country will engage in war. Furthermore, rationalism describes a leader who puts the interest of his country in priority over anything else. Those fighting for territorial control do so in the best interest of their nations. States have a right to sovereignty, especially involving their territories and often promote their national interests over anything else ( Levy & Thompson, 2011) . In this regard, rationalists believe countries have a right to protect their freedom if it consists of benefiting their people and the whole country. 

In conclusion, conflict is inherent in society because of how it is structured to produce friction. Conflicts and wars occur when states and governments fail to agree with each other on several shared interests. The rationalist theory of war states is based on the assumption that leaders use war as a rational alternative when acting in the best interest of their nations ( Amadae, 2003) . Such leaders will find the expected benefits of engaging in war outweighing the projected losses and will work in the best interest of their countries. Rationalism is an international relations framework that assumes states are rational and seeks the best possible outcomes for themselves. In this regard, conflicts and war occur when countries cannot share resources between them, and therefore, bargaining is not an option. The rule of law is seen as an essential factor in reducing conflicts and wars between states by allowing them to negotiate treaties that suits their interests ( Levy, 1998) . It helps to minimize disputes according to the rationalist theory of war, which entails states settling on an agreement that will avoid a possible conflict. 


Amadae, S. M. (2003).  Rationalizing capitalist democracy: The cold war origins of rational choice liberalism . University of Chicago Press. 

Betts, R. K. (Ed.). (2017).  Conflict after the Cold War: arguments on causes of war and peace . Taylor & Francis. 

Levy, J. S. (1998). The causes of war and the conditions of peace.  Annual Review of Political Science 1 (1), 139-165. 

Levy, J. S., & Thompson, W. R. (2011).  Causes of war . John Wiley & Sons. 

Van Evera, S. (2013).  Causes of war: Power and the roots of conflict . Cornell University Press. 

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