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Why Nations Fight
Past and Future Motives for War


  • Date Published: September 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521170451

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About the Authors
  • Four generic motives have historically led states to initiate war: fear, interest, standing, and revenge. Using an original data set, Richard Ned Lebow examines the distribution of wars across three and a half centuries and argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, only a minority of these were motivated by security or material interest. Instead, the majority are the result of a quest for standing, and for revenge - an attempt to get even with states who had previously made successful territorial grabs. Lebow maintains that today none of these motives are effectively served by war - it is increasingly counterproductive - and that there is growing recognition of this political reality. His analysis allows for more fine-grained and persuasive forecasts about the future of war as well as highlighting areas of uncertainty.

    • Advances a novel approach to the causes of war and uses this to make forecasts about the future of war
    • A unique data set, compiled by the author, underlies the book's analysis
    • Includes a chapter-length discussion and critical review of existing theories and approaches to the study of war (realist, power transition, Democratic Peace, Marxist and rationalist)
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Richard Ned Lebow makes an extremely successful attempt at broaching lucidly the main theories of war, and offers a most fascinating and convincing way of bringing them up to date. He strongly renews a classical field of IR studies by considering the new conflicts in a very relevant manner.' Bertrand Badie, Professor, Sciences Po, Paris

    'In Why Nations Fight, Richard Ned Lebow makes a welcome contribution to the study of war by bringing motives and reasons (rather than just goals and intentions) back in. Extending his theory of human motives, he develops a typology of wars and establishes a series of propositions about war-initiation which he evaluates on a new historical data set. Last, but not least, he speculates on the future of wars by extrapolating from historical shifts in both the salience of motives and the changing understanding actors have of them.' Stefano Guzzini, Senior Researcher, Danish Institute for International Studies

    'In Why Nations Fight Richard Ned Lebow continues the path-breaking attempt that he started in A Cultural Theory of International Relations to re-orient the way that we study international relations. In this new book he delivers on his promise to draw on systematic data to assess his theoretical analysis of war and, as a consequence, is able to reach some fascinating and broadly optimistic conclusions. Both his theory and evidence indicates that although one of the major reasons that states have gone to war in the past is to raise their international esteem, because of some complex social and cultural changes, war is now much less likely to achieve this goal. It follows that states are becoming much less motivated to go to war. This is a stimulating and challenging attack on orthodox thinking in the field.' Richard Little, University of Bristol

    '… understanding why states enter into wars that have, in the last century alone, led to the collapse of empires, the subjugation of great powers and the destruction of man and his environment is essential, if only to mitigate the ruthlessness and danger and not to solve it. In this disciplinary and historical context, Richard Ned Lebow's Why Nations Fight: Past and Future Motives for War offers and argument that, if heeded, should teach theorists and practitioners of international affairs just how and why they continue to find themselves embroiled in conflict year after year. CEU Political Science Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521170451
    • length: 318 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 153 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus. 2 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Introduction:
    1. Introduction
    2. Theories of war
    Part II. War in the Past:
    3. Theory and propositions
    4. Data set and findings
    Part III. War in the Future:
    5. Interest and security
    6. Standing and revenge
    Part IV. Conclusion:
    7. Conclusion
    Appendix: data set.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Approaches to the Study of International Politics
    • Explaining Global conflict and violence
    • Int'l Relations Theory
    • International Conflict
    • Politics of War
    • Research Seminar in International Relations
    • Scope and Methods of Political Science
    • Security Strategy
    • The Causes of War and Peace
    • War and Diplomacy
    • War and the State
    • War, Violence, and Modernity
    • intro to international politics
  • Author

    Richard Ned Lebow, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
    Richard Ned Lebow is James O. Freedman Presidential Professor at Dartmouth College and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Among other books, he is the author of A Cultural Theory of International Relations (Cambridge University Press, 2008) which won the 2009 American Political Science Association Jervis and Schroeder Award for the Best Book on International History and Politics as well as the British International Studies Association Susan Strange Book Prize for the Best Book in International Studies, and The Tragic Vision of Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2003) which won the 2005 Alexander George Book Award of the International Society for Political Psychology.

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