War arises because of the changing relations of numerous variables--technological, psychic, social, and intellectual. There is no single cause of war. Peace is an equilibrium among many forces. Change in any particular force, trend, movement, or policy may at one time make for war, but under other conditions a similar change may make for peace. A state may at one time promote peace by armament, at another time by disarmament, at one time by insistence on its rights, at another time by a spirit conciliation. To estimate the probability of war at any time involves, therefore, an appraisal of the effect of current changes upon the complex of intergroup relationships throughout the world.
---- Wright, 1965: 1284
1. Perspective And Summary
15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
Democratic Peace page
What causes war? Why international violence? International Conflict? The answers are specific. International Conflict Behavior (as defined in Table 4.4) is caused by:
It is aggravated by:
It is inhibited by:
It is triggered by:
Such are the general causes and conditions of international Conflict Behavior whether nonviolent conflict behavior, violence, or war. But, as pointed out in the Chapter 15, Conflict Behavior manifests a series of subphases in the balancing of powers . Each subphase involves different kinds of behavior. What, then, uniquely characterizes each subphase within the above framework of general causes and conditions.
In addition to the general causes of Conflict Behavior, nonviolent Conflict Behavior and minor low-level violence, are aggravated by:
They are inhibited by:
In addition to the general causes of Conflict Behavior, violence (including war) is caused by:
It is aggravated by:
It is inhibited by:
War is a particular type of intense violence and what generally causes, aggravates, and inhibits violence so affects war. In addition, war is uniquely aggravated by:
It is inhibited by:
This list immediately raises a number of questions: How are cause and condition defined? What is the theoretical foundation for the list? What do the particular causes and conditions mean, such as power parity or class conflict? What is the evidence?
These are central questions, and must be answered. To best organize the relevant technical material and answers, three appendices have been prepared. Appendix 16A defines cause and conditions and considers their particular use here. Appendix 16B presents 33 propositions stating the specific framework for understanding each cause or condition, the theoretical basis, prediction, and evidence. Appendix 16C provides methodological detail and the sources for evaluating the evidence used in Appendix 16B.
Against this background and within the social field context, the causes and conditions of antagonistic
The level between double lines just above the phases, map as horizontal lines behavior manifesting a particular phase or subphase of conflict. The length of each line is congruent with the phase or subphases the associated behavior reflects. Thus, the line plot for intense military violence shows it to be congruent with a portion of the coercive violence subphase and the whole of the force subphase.
Above these phase plots for behavior, the causes and conditions are then mapped in ascending levels. Each cause or condition is shown as a line congruent to both the phase or subphases in which it operates and the conflict behavior it could produce or influence. A vertical line drawn anywhere in the phase-map, therefore, will locate:
This phase map is the basic organization (model) for interrelating the causes and conditions of international conflict.
A structure of expectations is based on a particular balance of powers between states. The balance may shift in time, however, and aggravated by sociocultural dissimilarity and cognitive imbalance, will produce incongruent expectations. Without such incongruency between two states there would be no conflict situation. There would be no mutual antiforeign riots or demonstrations, and tension, friction, and coolness in relations.
When incongruency occurs, such a conflict situation is produced; tension and hostility are generated.
Incongruency is a latent situation of conflict ripe for disruption, for an eruption into manifest confrontation. This disruption divides in time, and thus in the phase map, the conflict situation from the situation of uncertainty and the balancing of powers. The disruption of expectations is the necessary and sufficient cause of intentional, state Conflict Behavior, whether negative communications, sanctions, or war. International Conflict Behavior assumes such a disruption has occurred; its occurrence produces Conflict Behavior.
There are no other jointly necessary and sufficient causes. Incongruency and disruption are thus basic, and have been given considerable theoretical analysis in previous chapters and volumes, especially in terms of the conflict helix: structure of expectations become incongruent with the underlying--previously supporting--balance of powers, making disruption likely; disruption generates the balancing of powers, which determines a more realistic, mutually perceived balance of powers; this new balance forms a new, congruent structure of expectations; this structure becomes in time incongruent; and so on.
Considering the necessary cause of Conflict Behavior in general first (these are the lines beginning with the conflict situation or situation of uncertainty and running completely across the phase map), one is the distance vectors between states in sociocultural space. These mirror the basic opposition between national interests and capabilities--they measure the relative position of states in their meanings, values, norms, status, and class. Opposing interests are necessary to the latent conflict situation and for the actual balancing that takes place.
Another necessary cause is a mutual awareness, a contact between states and mutual salience.
In addition, perceptions and expectations specific to each actor (as described in Chapter 5) are necessary to their conflict. What the situational content of these might be depends on the actor.
Two necessary causes specifically underlie the disruption of the structure of expectations and the consequent situation of uncertainty and balance of powers. One is a significant change in the balance of powers. This is a change in interests, capabilities, or will (credibility) that causes one or both parties to feel that their understandings and agreements, the distribution of rights and benefits, duties and responsibilities--in short the structure of expectations--are wrong, unjust, inconsistent with their powers, and should and can be altered to the advantage of one or the other.
The second necessary cause of disruption is a will-to-conflict. No Conflict Behavior can occur unless the parties are willing to confront each other.
So far then, for Conflict Behavior to occur between two states there must be a particular combination of sociocultural distances between them (an opposition of their interests and capabilities), mutual awareness (contact and salience), a significant change in their balance of powers, disrupted expectations, and a will-to-conflict.
Besides these necessary causes of Conflict Behavior of all kinds, violence uniquely assumes the existence of three additional necessary causes, as shown in the phase map (Figure 16.1). One is the expectation of success. In their own subjective calculus of gains and losses, each party believes that the outcome of violence will be advantageous (even if it means for one invaded that it will at least succeed in forcing concessions from the aggressor).
A second necessary cause of violence is a disrupted status quo. The status quo defines for states the ideological and territorial distribution of who has what. It is the core of the structure of expectations. Without a disruption in the status quo the issues are neither important or clear enough to warrant violence.
The third necessary cause is that a party to the conflict be nonlibertarian (authoritarian or totalitarian). Violence will not occur between two libertarian (or liberal democratic) states: domestic constraints, cross-pressures and libertarian bonds makes violent alternatives unthinkable. Such is not the case for nonlibertarian states.
Such change therefore has a dual effect. It produces a conflict situation, perhaps manifested in tension, hostility, friction, coolness, and antiforeign demonstrations. Interstate relations remain "correct," but beneath the pot is boiling. And this change is a necessary cause for the subsequent Conflict Behavior (as shown in the phase map), once expectations have been disrupted.
Note that there is a logical relationship between incongruent expectations as a necessary and sufficient cause of hostility and tension, and a significant change in the balance of powers as a sufficient cause. "Significant" is defined in terms of those changes in the interests, capabilities, and wills comprising a balance of powers that creates a gap with regard to expectations. That is, what states want, can get, or are resolved to get are no longer consistent with their understandings or agreements.
Four such conditions affect international Conflict Behavior generally, regardless of phase or subphase. One is sociocultural dissimilarity, which makes opposing interest more likely and aggravates communications between parties. The second is cognitive imbalance, or the imbalance in relationships or status between parties. Such can create a pressure towards misperception and miscommunication, and necessitate a conflict aggravating readjustment.
A third aggravator is the overall status difference (distance vector), or rank between parties. Relative status is a basic force between states, as between individuals, and differences in wealth (e.g., a rich-poor gap), in power, and in prestige can interject status considerations into a conflict. And make it far more difficult to resolve.
And fourth is the coercive power of state. The more relative power a state has the more global its contacts and interests and the more concern over its reputation for power. Great power is not necessary or sufficient for conflict behavior. Weak states do conflict; do go to war. But power does stimulate and aggravate issues, giving them a more global significance. And centralized state power means also that resources can be controlled and directed towards a conflict and domestic restraints manipulated. The more power the parties have in a conflict, the more conflict behavior there is likely to be.
The other aggravating conditions only affect certain phases and kinds of conflict. The first of these is cross-pressures, which deepens the situation of uncertainty, provoking status quo testing and stimulating nonviolent conflict behavior and even possible minor, low level violence.
While affecting some nonviolence also, most of the remaining aggravators primarily act on violence. First of these is Big Power intervention in the conflict, which may transform a local dispute into one involving the status quo among the Powers, and thus raise the stakes at issue. Such intervention also injects into the conflict greater resources for confrontation.
Two additional aggravating conditions of violence are the injection of honor and credibility (reputation for power) into conflict. If a leadership perceives its or the nation's self-esteem at issue, or if it feels that the outcome of a conflict will determine how others perceive their will and capability, then the conflict is more likely to escalate, be more intense, and be more difficult to resolve.
Another aggravating condition is the perceived weakness of the Status quo Power. A status quo will always involve some perceived unequal distribution of rights and benefits. As long as the major benefactor--the Status quo Power--has the strength to defend the status quo, however, this distribution is likely to remain stable. But if the Status quo Power becomes weak, which would be a significant change in the balance of powers, and its ability to defend the status quo is questionable, then attempts the realign the status quo by other parties are encouraged. And if violence occurs, it is acerbated.
Finally, polarity also aggravates Conflict Behavior and violence. International systems in which power is highly centralized assure that once conflict breaks out, it can easily involve the fundamental status quo among the Big Powers and become a test of the power-based international order, thus encouraging escalation and extreme violence.
Two conditions particularly aggravate intense violence and war. One is coercive power parity. The more equal in this power two states are, the more objectively ambiguous the outcome and the more both sides can believe in success.
The second is class conflict. Class is a relationship of power regarding the status quo, where the superordinate class most benefits from the status quo. The subordinate class comprises the "outs." The more this class division puts states in the same one-up or one-down position on international rights, privileges, and benefits, the more likely conflict will become intensely violent.
Many of the aggravating conditions of Conflict Behavior are inhibitors if their values are reversed. Whereas, dissimilarity aggravates, similarity inhibits. Likewise, cognitive balance, status similarity, and weak state power are the general inhibitors of Conflict Behavior.
Focusing now on particular subphases of conflict, there are only two inhibitors of nonviolent conflict behavior and low-level violence. One is polarity, or the centralization of power within the international system. In centralized systems, except for extreme violence Conflict Behavior tends to be dampened and repressed. Such conflict is largely controlled, for it might escalate and involve the Big Power(s), or affect the general status quo. Polarity is a dual condition, therefore. It dampens nonviolent conflict behavior and low-level violence while aggravating major violence.
The second inhibitor of low-level conflict is a stable status quo. Even though there may be an intense nonviolent dispute, as long as the status quo between the parties is unquestioned, the conflict is restrained and escalation to violence is unlikely. Except for isolated low-level violence, coercive violence and force are over a disrupted status quo. Therefore, the line representing a stable status quo in the phase map must end where a disrupted status quo (the necessary cause of violence) begins.
Turning now to inhibitors of violence (which may also inhibit some nonviolent Conflict Behavior), the first is the strength of the Status Quo Power. Its weakness aggravates conflict, making violence and escalation more likely. And its strength inhibits the escalation of conflict into violence and war.
The second inhibitor is cross-pressures, which like polarity has a dual causal role, but in opposite directions. As a result of diverse, contending interests, cross-pressures encourage Conflict Behavior, but bleed off, segment and confuse this conflict so that violence and war are inhibited.
As generators of cross-pressures, libertarian (liberal democratic) political systems are inhibit in their involvement in extreme conflict and violence, especially in initiating violence. It is usually in defense of the status quo against authoritarian or totalitarian initiatives or aggression that libertarian states will be involved in violence, if at all.
Finally, there is world opinion, which if vocal and focused can inhibit the occurrence and escalation of violence. Allies can threaten to withdraw support; friendly countries can turn hostile, thus affecting other issues besides those in the dispute. In other words, world opinion can raise the cost of a conflict to the parties.
Aside from the inhibitors of violence, war as a type of violence has only one special inhibitor: coercive power disparity. Power parity makes escalation to and in war more likely. The ambiguity of power enables both parties to expect success. A power disparity that makes clear the power dominance of one party over the other tends to discourage war.
One class is of those events perceived by one or both parties as showing opportunity, threat, or injustice.
Opportunity could be indicated by some event displaying the weakness of the other party, such as its withdrawal from a local conflict with an apparently inferior party, mutiny of a garrison, or a coup d'état. Threat may be perceived in an assassination plot financed by the other party, or discovery of the development of a secret weapon, or declared alliance between the other party and another adversary. And injustice may be seen in the other sinking one's passenger liner, harboring or supporting terrorists, or refusing to concede territory one feels the other illegally occupies.
The second class of triggers are those which occur suddenly, provoking surprise, and crystallizing will and opposition. These are the crises creators. The events which were not foreseen, but which cannot be ignored and change or threaten to change the relationship between the parties. The sudden discovery by the United States that the Soviet Union was putting missiles and bombers in Cuba in 1962, threatening to alter the balance of powers was such a trigger. So was the sudden blockade of West Berlin by the Soviet Union in 1948, the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961; and the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Egyptian President Nasser in 1956.
Note on the phase map that triggers conveying perceptions of opportunity threat, or injustice, and surprise may operate also to escalate the subphases of conflict.
War is generated by a field of sociocultural forces seated in the meaning, values, and norms of states. Specifically, war is an outcome of an imbalance among these forces in international space-time. And is the process through which a new field equilibrium is established.
The causes and conditions of war, therefore, operate within this social field. They are interrelated; their operation is relative to the space-time. War is therefore not the product of one cause, or x number of causes operating independently. War is a social field phenomenon, and its causes and conditions must be understood as aspects of this field--as contextual, situational.
With this understanding, an answer to "What causes war?" requires first stating the conditions that must be met for war to be possible. These are the necessary causes of war.
For war to occur between two states they must have some contact and salience, some awareness of each other. They must also have some opposing interests, something to fight about, and capabilities to fight. Such is obvious, What is not so clear is the more abstract but operational statement of this: they must have specific sociocultural distances (vectors).
What opposing interests are necessary for war depend on the actor and situation. But there is one characteristic, however, which can be defined. At least one of the potential combatants must be nonlibertarian. Shared domestic restraints, cross-pressures and bonds, ideology, preclude war between libertarian--liberal democratic--states.
If at least one of the parties is nonlibertarian, there are still additional requirements for war to occur. There must be a significant change in the balance of powers supporting the status quo. Interests, capabilities, and will singly or in combination must have changed sufficiently that the status quo is now felt to be unjust, threatened, or ripe for readjustment. This change has created a tension, a cold or hostile climate between the parties; it had made it obvious to informed observers that if something is not done to prevent it, violence and possibly war will break out.
Second, there must be a will-to-war. That is, each potential combatant must have a will to fight either in defense of or to change the status quo. Abnegation, surrender, concessions can avoid war, at least for the short run. Such, of course, may be at a cost in honor, benefits, potential gain, or freedom greater than a leadership is eventually willing or able to bear; and thus stimulating a subsequent will-to-war.
And third, each potential combatant must expect success as he defines it. That is, each must believe that if war does occur as a result of the increasingly unstable status quo, then he will be able to achieve his war aims (desirable slice of territory; defeat the other's border attack; force acceptance of a new sphere of interests; establish control over trade routes, humiliate the other, defend one's honor, and so on).
These, then, are the rock bottom, generally necessary causes for war: contact and salience, opposing interests and capabilities, nonlibertarian enemies, significant change in the balance of powers underlying the status quo, a will-to-war, and a belief in success if war occurs.
Wherever present between states on the globe, these causes demarcate the war potential zones, the possible global fronts of extreme violence. The zone including only libertarian states is a zone of peace. Outside of this zone are those that circumscribe the disequlibriums among powers supporting the local, regional, and global status quos. These are the hot spots, the zones of possible war.
Yet, war may not occur. For a final necessary cause also must be present. This is the disruption of the status quo. Some, perhaps surprising, event will communicate injustice, threat, or opportunity in a way to crystallize the conflict situation and provoke the will-to-action for one or both parties. The change in the balance of powers has created tension, a recognition of the possibility of war over a status quo. The trigger event brings this to a head, provoking a crises in which war is the outcome.
Disruption of the status quo is both necessary and sufficient for Conflict Behavior, but only necessary for violence and war. Such disruption will not occur unless the requirements for war are present (opposing interests, significant change in balance of powers, and so on). The decision to go to war takes preparation and months may go by in which tension grows or, through the subterfuge of one party or another, seems to abate before the attack.
Such are the necessary and sufficient causes of war, what in the abstract must be present or happen for war to occur.
However, it should be clear that all these requirements for war may be present, and still no war may break out. Moreover, the war that does occur can be a short, intense confrontation on a border, or a full-scale war between the parties involving bombing raids on each other's capital city and invasion, or a general war in which many states are involved.
There are three groups of aggravating conditions which increase the likelihood of war, given the presence of the necessary conditions, or increase its intensity once it has occurred. One group is of those conditions which worsen Conflict Behavior generally, whether negative communications, sanctions, violence, or war. These include the sociocultural dissimilarity between the parties, their cognitive imbalance and status difference and the coercive power of the parties. All these acerbate opposing interests and with regard to war, tend to destabilize the status quo, and increase the likelihood of its disruption.
A second group of aggravating conditions uniquely influence violence and war. One of these is the polarity of the system, which defines the generality of the status quo and increases the probability that a state's violence, wherever it occurs, will involve Big Power interests. A second is Big Power intervention itself, which may inject into local conflicts larger status quo interests and resources and provoke violence or its escalation.
Another aggravating condition is the weakness of the Status quo Power. Given the presence of the necessary causes, if the Status quo Power seems to display an unwillingness or inability to defend an already unstable status quo, then this makes more likely its disruption and the escalation of violence and war, once they occur.
Finally, there is honor and credibility. If these are at stake in a conflict situation, it becomes more explosive, making violence and war more likely, more intense once they occur, and more difficult to resolve.
The third group of aggravators is unique to war. These make disruption and war more likely, given the necessary causes, and make the escalation of war more probable. One is power parity, or a sufficient equality of coercive power and force such that each side believes that it can successfully oppose the power of the other.
The second aggravator is class conflict. Class in international relations defines the authoritative, status quo rights of the parties. As there is increasingly one division separating those who have from those who want; those with wealth, power and prestige from those who are poor, weak, and unrenowned; and those states who command and those who obey; then this division worsens conflict, makes war more likely, and tends to turn a war, once it occurs, into a general war.
In total, the three groups of aggravating conditions push toward war. But, singly or collectively, they will not in general cause war by themselves. The necessary causes must be present; the status quo must be disrupted. However, these aggravating causes can turn potential into disposition and disposition into a war seeking an excuse to happen.
In any conflict, however, there are always two sets of conditions present. Those promoting confrontation; those discouraging it. For war, also, there are a variety of inhibiting conditions that oppose its occurrence and escalation. These also comprise three groups, depending on whether they operate in all Conflict Behavior subphases, only violence and war, or only on war.
The first group comprises those aggravators that when reversed act also as inhibitors. Thus, sociocultural similarity, cognitive balance, status similarity, and state weakness restrains the tendency toward Conflict Behavior, violence and war.
The second group contains a number of inhibitors which act on violence, only one of which is the reverse of an aggravator. This is the strength of the Status quo Power. If in spite of a change in the balance of powers, the supporter of the status quo appears willing and able to defend it, this tends to work against its disruption. Even then disruption and consequent violence or war may occur. The AntiStatus quo Power may believe it can successfully change the status quo over the other's resistance. But, the threshold for this is raised.
Another inhibitor in this group is cross-pressures. These involve diverse interests that may segment the particular opposing interests of the parties. Violence or war may be desirable for these interests, but other interests may therefore be compromised or lost. Some interests push toward war; some pun away from it.
Related to this is internal freedom--a libertarian political system--as an inhibitor of violence and war. Libertarian states do commit violence and go to war; but reluctantly, usually against totalitarian or authoritarian threats or aggression, and often with considerable domestic opposition.
A final inhibitor in this group is world opinion, the pressure that allies and neutrals can bring to bear to prevent or check violence and war.
The final group is of those conditions uniquely inhibiting war. It has one member: power disparity. Power parity worsens a war-potential situation; power disparity restrains it. War still may occur, in spite of a gross inequality in military forces and resources. Other factors, such as honor, credibility, survival, or determination may make the difference, as they have in the Israeli-Arab Wars. Success may be pegged to the potential for Big Power intervention; or success may be measured not in terms of winning, but in actually having fought the other to a standstill or in unifying a nation. Or a state may calculate that the other side will use only a small part of its power, as small North Vietnam correctly did in fighting a war against a Superpower, the United States.
These, then, are the causes and conditions of war. Table 16A.1 in Appendix 16A pulls them all together, by level and group. Figure 16.1 shows these causes operating by phase and subphase. And the basic picture of the conflict helix in Figure 29.1 of Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix portrays the process of conflict, and thus of war as well;
In order to be as clear as possible, however, I have also constructed Figure 16.2. This brings together in one figure all the necessary and sufficient causes and the aggravating and inhibiting conditions of war, in their relationship to each other and to the underlying process of conflict. Causes and conditions are shown in lower case; descriptive terms for this process are capitalized.
The core of the structure of expectations--the status quo--is shown as a bar with regard to which a gap (incongruence) is created by a change in the balance of powers (necessary cause). This assumes mutual contact and salience, and opposing interests and capabilities (necessary causes). A trigger (cause) disrupts the status quo (necessary and sufficient cause) and war results, assuming a will-to-war, confidence in success, and that totalitarian or authoritarian states are involved (necessary causes). The war then determines a new balance of mutually recognized powers and a congruent status quo as shown in Figure 16.2. Also as shown, a number of aggravating and inhibiting conditions operate on the process.
Such, then, is a well-confirmed perspective on war. The evidence is presented in Appendices 16B and 16C.
* Scanned from Chapter 16 in R.J. Rummel, War, Power, Peace, 1979. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.
1. There are two levels of evidence. One level is the statement of the cause, such as "x causes y." Such are the propositions given in Appendix 16B. The other is the premises of the statement. For example, one might assert that because of premises a, b, c, and d, then "x causes y." Now, if a, b, c, and d are supported by the evidence, then the derivation of "x causes y" gives the statement a truth value over and above the empirical evidence bearing on the statement alone. Only true deductions can be logically derived from true premises. Appendix 16B presents the evidence for the statements (propositions) involving the causes and conditions. The previous chapters and volumes provide the evidence (such as the psychological evidence from multivariate psychology in Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field and the cross-national evidence for the general conflict propositions in Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix) for the premises of the statements.
2. Although the general causes and conditions refer to Conflict Behavior, which involves both the coercive and noncoercive paths, where the latter may comprise cooperative behavior (see Figure 12.1), I have restricted the phase map to the former for simplicity.
3. Attempts to visually model causes of war usually employ an arrow diagram to show the causal relationship between independent and dependent variables. The phase map in Figure 16.1 is an alternative model which allows dynamic interrelationship among variables to be simultaneously shown at different phases in process.
4. A complete, detailed discussion of each cause, theoretically and empirically, would obviously entail a separate volume. However, because each basic concept (e.g., structure of expectations, power, libertarian political system) has been defined and analyzed in previous volumes and chapters, and because Appendix 16B focuses this previous analysis on each propositional statement of a cause or condition, I can be brief here.
5. Because this is a necessary and sufficient cause of an international situation of conflict and not behavior, it does not appear in the list of causes and conditions in Table 16A.1, nor in the propositions listed in Table 16B.1.
6. As I discuss these causes and conditions, such as incongruent expectations, I will be moving up and down the vertical region in the phase map whose width is defined by the horizontal line that plots a specific cause or condition. Thus, for incongruent expectations, note that the vertical region encompasses at the base the conflict situation; such behaviors as UN voting, and antiforeign behavior; and such aggravating conditions as sociocultural dissimilarity and cognitive imbalance. The vertical region also includes, as sufficient cause, a significant change in the balance of powers, which I have just pointed to in the text as producing incongruent expectations. This approach underlines the interrelatedness of the causes and conditions, behavior, and latent process.
7. Hostility, manifested in unofficial antiforeign behavior, and tension or friction reflect a latent situation of conflict. They are not intentional state acts or actions necessarily connected to the specific situation. Indeed, hostility and tension are a matter of atmosphere and feeling, not a specific behavior. In the situation of uncertainty and balancing of powers, however, conflict acts and actions are willful, intentional confrontations regarding the conflict.
8. This is not a trite nor tautological assertion, for the cause is defined in terms of distance vectors in sociocultural space. Interests are therefore given a specific empirical manifestation and operational meaning distinct from empirical conflict behavior.
9. Appendix 9A provides some related useful results on situational expectations and perceptions.