Skip to main content
×
×
Home

War Is in the Error Term

  • Erik Gartzke
Extract

At least since Thucydides, students of international relations have sought rational explanations for the advent of war. Rationalist explanations assume purposive action; states are said to make reasoned decisions about the use of force. Although rationalist explanations have proven persuasive, durable, and offer the basis for cumulative theorizing, they also imply substantial limits on what we can know about war. I show that the most general rationalist explanation for war also dictates that the onset of war is theoretically indeterminate. We cannot predict in individual cases whether states will go to war, because war is typically the consequence of variables that are unobservable ex ante, both to us as researchers and to the participants. Thinking probabilistically continues to offer the opportunity to assess international conflict empirically. However, the realization that uncertainty is necessary theoretically to motivate war is much different from recognizing that the empirical world contains a stochastic element. Accepting uncertainty as a necessary condition of war implies that all other variables—however detailed the explanation—serve to eliminate gradations of irrelevant alternatives. We can progressively refine our ability to distinguish states that may use force from those that are likely to remain at peace, but anticipating wars from a pool of states that appear willing to fight will remain problematic. For example, we may achieve considerable success in anticipating crises, but our ability to predict which crises will become wars will probably prove little better than the naive predictions of random chance. The need for uncertainty to account for war means that the same conditions thought to account for war must also exist among states not destined to fight. Otherwise, states themselves will differentiate between opponents in a way that either removes the motives for war or restores uncertainty. It has long been accepted that social processes possess an element of uncertainty, but the centrality of uncertainty to rationalist explanations for war means that the advent of war is itself stochastic. War is literally in the “error term.”

Copyright
References
Hide All
Blainey, Geoffrey. 1973. The Causes of War. New York: The Free Press.
Brecher, Michael, and Jonathan, Wilkenfeld. 1997. A Study of Crisis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce. 1981. The War Trap. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and David, Lalman. 1992. War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives. New Haven, Conn.:Yale University Press.
Carr, Edward Hallett. 1946. The Twenty YearsCrisis, 1919–1939:An Introductionto the Study of International Relations. New York: St.Martin's Press.
Clausewitz, Carl von. 1976. On War. Edited and translated by Michael, Howard and Peter, Paret. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Fama, Eugene F. 1965. The Behavior of Stock-Market Prices. Journal of Business 38:34105.
. 1970. Efficient CapitalMarkets:A Review of Theory and Empirical Work. Journal of Finance 25 (2):383417.
. 1991. Efficient Capital Markets II. Journal of Finance 46 (5):15751617.
Fearon, James D. 1991. Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science. World Politics 43 (2):16995.
. 1992. Threats to Use Force: Costly Signals and Bargaining in International Crises. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley.
. 1994. Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes. American Political Science Review 88 (3):577–92.
. 1995. Rationalist Explanations for War. International Organization 49 (3):379414.
. 1997. Signaling Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands Versus Sinking Costs. Journal of Conflict Resolution 41 (1):6890.
Fearon, James D., and David D.|Laitin. 1996. Explaining Interethnic Cooperation. American Political Science Review 90 (4):715–35.
Gartzke, Erik. 1997. Burning Bridges or Building Bon. res: A Costly Signaling Model of the Democratic Peace. Unpublished manuscript, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Penn.
George, Alexander L., and Richard, Smoke. 1974. Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1989. Deterrence and Foreign Policy. World Politics 41 (2):170–82.
Jervis, Robert, Richard Ned, Lebow, and Janice Gross, Stein. 1985.Psychology and Deterrence. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
King, Gary, Robert O., Keohane, and Sidney, Verba. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scienti.c Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Kugler, Jacek, and Douglas, Lemke, eds. 1996. Parity and War: Evaluations and Extensions of the War Ledger. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Lebow, Richard Ned. 1981. Between Peace and War: The Nature of International Crisis. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lebow, Richard Ned, and Janice, Gross Stein. 1989. Rational Deterrence Theory: I Think, Therefore I Deter. World Politics 41 (2):208–24.
Malkiel, Burton Gordon. 1985. A RandomWalk Down Wall Street. 4th ed. New York: Norton.
Maoz, Zeev, and Bruce, Russett. 1993. Normative and Structural Causes of Democratic Peace, 1946–1986. American Political Science Review 87 (3): 624–38.
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1954. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 2d ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Nachmias, David, and Chava, Nachmias. 1987. Research Methods in the Social Sciences. 3d ed. New York: St.Martin's Press.
Oneal, John R., and Bruce, Russett. 1997. The Classical Liberals Were Right: Democracy, Interdependence, and Conflict, 1950–85. International Studies Quarterly 41 (2):267–94.
Organski, A. F. K. 1968. World Politics. 2d ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Organski, A. F. K., and Jacek, Kugler. 1980. The War Ledger. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Powell, Robert. 1996. Stability and the Distribution of Power. World Politics 48 (2):239–67.
Russett, Bruce, John R., Oneal, and David R., Davis. 1998. The Third Leg of the Kantian Tripod for Peace: International Organizations and Militarized Disputes, 1950–1985. International Organization 52 (3): 441–67.
Smith, Alastair. 1996. Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems. International Studies Quarterly 40 (1):133–53.
Taylor, A. J. P. 1954. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Walter, Barbara F. 1997. The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement. International Organization 51 (3):335–64.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1959. Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press.
. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed