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The Topic of War and Its Causes Essay


Throughout this week’s reading, the discussion focused on the topic of war and how it was perceived through political and theoretical perspectives. In this paper, three articles will be reviewed and analyzed to determine the authors’ views on the nature of war and theories that could explain the reasons behind it. Articles included in the analysis are “Offense, Defense, and Causes of War” by Van Evera, “Domestic Politics and War” by Levy, and “The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace” by Levy; all present unique perspectives on the topic of war and contain insightful research that will be analyzed further.

“Offense, Defense, and Causes of War”

Van Evera came up with a list of ten war-causing effects, which, when combined, present an offense-defense theory that could give a profound explanation to the nature of war and its outcomes across such domains as military and foreign policy, as well as crisis diplomacy. The author suggested that due to the wide explanatory range of the offense-defense theory, it was possible to determine how intervening phenomena such as expansionism, arms races, first-strike, move advantage, and others were “war causes in their own right” (Van Evera 41). Some of the most noteworthy explanations for the nature of war include; “empires are easier to conquer,” “states negotiate less readily and cooperatively,” “offense dominance is self-feeding,” “arms racing is faster and harder to control” (Van Evera 6). The greatest strength of the proposed theory to explain the causes of war is its simplicity and the applicability to real-world events such as World War I. Also, it is essential to mention that the offense-defense theory is utilitarian and takes into consideration the direct effects of war on military and national policies of entities involved in warfare (Van Evera 11). On the other hand, there is a weakness that prompts the further exploration of the theory. For instance, despite providing a satisfying explanation for the causes of war, the theory fails to explain why the majority of entities that participated in wars only placed importance on offense rather than defense, contributing to the exaggeration of aggressive military actions.

“Domestic Politics and War”

Levy aimed to explore the role of domestic political variables in facilitating war due to the gap in the available studies that predominantly focused on isolated hypotheses of a non-cumulative and atheoretical nature. The author argued that there was a need in recognizing the role that domestic factors played in contributing to the war to strengthen the validity of the proposed theories (Levy, “Domestic Politics and War” 653). Therefore, Levy explored connections between war behaviors of countries and their national attributes such as democratic/non-democratic regimes, liberal/Marxist theories, the prevalence of nationalism, and so on (“Domestic Politics and War” 654). In the article, the critique of historians’ neglect of societal variables was presented to emphasize the fact that the frequencies of entities involved in the war, by and large, depended on a broad spectrum of attributes about culture, ideology, and even religion. This suggestion can lead to the conclusion that some countries had been more involved in military action than others due to their desire to exhibit nationalistic ideas (e.g., Germany in World War II) or any other social characteristics.

The key strength of Levy’s argument laid out in the article “Domestic Politics and War” is associated with the author managing to point out the disadvantages in the existing political science literature on the topic of war. It was concluded that the lack of support for the relationship between war and domestic policies did not align with the specific case studies of different foreign conflicts that historians had previously explored (Levy, “Domestic Politics and War” 672). Also, the author mentioned that the lack of evidence could be attributed to the absence of a coherent and well-developed theoretical explanation that should guide empirical research on the topic. However, there was a prominent weakness in the article; Levy did not propose a solution that could be implemented for reducing the gap in research and developing a theoretic framework that could have strengthened the role of domestic policies in contributing to foreign conflicts.

In comparing Levy’s approach in this article to Van Evera’s findings, it is evident that the latter proposed a definite theory that could be used for explaining heated foreign conflicts. Levy, on the other hand, critiqued such theories for the lack of attention to specific cases that could explain better whether domestic policies played any role in facilitating war or contributing to it. Also, the differentiation between the two approaches is quite clear: while Levy tried to underline the role of domestic policies and social determinants, Van Evera placed higher importance on foreign policies that could have led nations to be more susceptible to participate in the war.

“The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace”

In another article, Levy reviewed and assessed the available literature on the cause of war with the focus on “power theories, power transition theories, the relationship between economic interdependence and war” (“The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace” 139). The author’s task was complicated due to the wide diversity of existing perspectives on the origins of war and peace; therefore, it was chosen to only select the leading theories and trends in the field, avoiding focusing on postmodern or feminist approaches. During the review and analysis of literature, the author concluded that there were some significant shifts in trends and paradigms that explained the nature of war. For instance, it was concluded that there had been a move from a focus on great power toward an interest in smaller (civil or ethnonational) conflicts.

Also, the author underlined the fact that the available research recognized a need for studying societal-level explanatory variables and their role in contributing to war (Levy, “The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace” 160). Thus, there was a noticeable decline in interest in the bipolar structure of the Cold War and an increase in attention to smaller and less politically stable nations that participate in ethnonational conflicts. It is also important to mention that the author found an increase in the complexity of the causes of war and the willingness of historians to pay more attention to developing models that could explain such a complexity. A significant strength of the article was that Levy concluded that theorists paid more attention to exploring interaction effects between different variables in the processes that occurred in periods leading to war (“The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace” 160). On the other hand, it could have been more effective if the author focused on a smaller number of theories and approaches and explored them in-depth rather than including a broad range of trends.

Comparing this article to the ones analyzed previously, it is important to mention that Levy’s approach in “The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace” was much broader than that in “Domestic Politics and War.” For instance, in the 1988 article, the author pointed out the gap in the research literature with regards to the connections between foreign conflicts and domestic policies while the 1998 article included clear praise in the improvement of historians’ coverage of war-related theories and underlined their desire to examine less generalized approaches. About the comparison of Van Evera’s article and Levy’s approach toward explaining the reasons behind warfare, it is evident that “Offense, Defense, and Causes of War” was more generalized and proposed an offense-defense theory that was predominantly focused on external affairs of powerful nations.


The analysis of these three articles showed that the theorists took different approaches toward explaining the reasons behind wars. This paper provided a discussion of Levy’s and Van Evera’s key arguments and pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of their positions regarding the exploration of the nature of war. In the first article, Van Evera made a point to present a specific theory that could explain why wars occurred. In the second article, Levy criticized the use of generalized and broad theories for exploring the causes of armed conflicts. In the third article, Levy concluded that there was an improvement in available research on the topic and a significant shift in focus from large armed conflicts between power nations toward exploring smaller ethnonational conflicts.

Works Cited

Levy, Jack. “Domestic Politics and War.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 18, no. 4, 1988, pp. 653-673.

Levy, Jack. “The Causes of War and the Conditions of Peace.” Annual Review of Political Science, vol 1, 1998, pp. 139-165.

Van Evera, Stephen. “Offense, Defense, and the Causes of War.” International Security, vol. 22, no. 4, 1998, pp. 5-43.

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