How Wars End

How Wars End

How Wars End

How Wars End


Why do some countries choose to end wars short of total victory while others fight on, sometimes in the face of appalling odds? How Wars End argues that two central factors shape war-termination decision making: information about the balance of power and the resolve of one's enemy, and fears that the other side's commitment to abide by a war-ending peace settlement may not be credible.

Dan Reiter explains how information about combat outcomes and other factors may persuade a warring nation to demand more or less in peace negotiations, and why a country might refuse to negotiate limited terms and instead tenaciously pursue absolute victory if it fears that its enemy might renege on a peace deal. He fully lays out the theory and then tests it on more than twenty cases of war-termination behavior, including decisions during the American Civil War, the two world wars, and the Korean War. Reiter helps solve some of the most enduring puzzles in military history, such as why Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, why Germany in 1918 renewed its attack in the West after securing peace with Russia in the East, and why Britain refused to seek peace terms with Germany after France fell in 1940.

How Wars End concludes with a timely discussion of twentieth-century American foreign policy, framing the Bush Doctrine's emphasis on preventive war in the context of the theory.


Love is like war; easy to begin but very hard to stop.

—H. L. Mencken

HOW, WHEN, AND WHY do belligerents end wars? Why do some losing belligerents, such as the United States in the early months of the Korean War, the Confederacy in the twilight of the American Civil War, Britain during the dark night of May 1940, and the United States in the first months of World War II, refuse to consider negotiating to end their wars on acceptable terms and instead fight on in pursuit of victory? Why do some winning belligerents, such as the Soviet Union in the latter months of its 1939–40 and 1941–44 wars against Finland, elect to stop fighting and accepted limited gains rather than fight onward in pursuit of the total defeat of the adversary?

This book seeks to solve these and other puzzles regarding the termination of wars. Why are some belligerents willing to end wars on limited terms? Why do some belligerents refuse to end war short of total victory? What factors push belligerents to demand more or less of the adversary at the negotiating table while war is raging? We know relatively little about how wars end, in contrast to the mountain ranges of ideas and scholarship we have about how wars start. Indeed, there has been something of an aversion to the study of war termination over the past several decades. The total nature of World War II seemed a denial of the political significance of war termination since in an era of total war the belligerents fight with all their resources until one side is utterly crushed. This neglect of war termination persisted through the Cold War, when most assumed that any major war would quickly escalate to nuclear attacks and Armageddon, making the topic of war termination a grim joke. Interest in war termination received little boost by the Vietnam War, as the bad taste left by that conflict encouraged thinking about stopping wars from happening rather than stopping wars once they have started. Beyond work of purely historical interest, such as the voluminous literature on why Japan surrendered in 1945, relatively few works exist that consider the question of war termination more generally.

War termination must receive closer attention. The end of the Cold War did not bring the “end of history” and the end of war as some had forecast . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.