Academic journal article Military Review

Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict

Academic journal article Military Review

Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict

Article excerpt

CAUSES OF WAR: Power and the Roots of Conflict, Stephen Van Evera, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1999, 268 pages, $35.00.

Theory-the study of recurrent patterns of phenomenon-is harder to comprehend and more useful than history-the study of specific or singular events. Stephen Van Evera of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's National Security Studies Program does not just write theory; he writes theory that is specifically beneficial to mankind.

Unlike most academics who simply value ideas in their own right, Van Evera is not interested in explanations of war causation of little or no use in reducing the prevalence of war. Therefore, he is indifferent to classic realism-the theory that nations go to war because they must defend their interests, primarily national security, in a world inherently marked by aggressive competition, if not deadly anarchy.

Van Evera does not question the pure intellectual validity of this proposition as much as he finds it useless to those seeking to build a more peaceful world. He is far more interested in the idea that wars are caused by the recurrent perception that armed conflict will be beneficial because the improved end state will be worth the cost of battle. In fact, Van Evera maintains that the price is usually greater, and the benefits less, than nations, leaders and warriors persistently predict.

At first glance, this may seem like a resounding statement of the obvious. People fight wars like they do most other things-because they think they will be better off for having done it. However, on close examination many so-called truisms might prove false. From his central thesis, Van Evera deduces a series of related propositions; some of which other theorists and historians might dispute. …

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