Causation of War at the State Level

Instructor: Joshua Sipper

Dr. Sipper holds a PhD in Education, a Master's of Education, and a Bachelor's in English. Most of his experience is in adult and post secondary education.

What causes wars has been a topic of wide discussion for centuries, employing the brightest political, scientific, and philosophical minds. While there are many possible causes for war at the state level, some are recognized as more likely and frequent.

War at the State Level: The Hydra

Have you ever read about the ancient Greek monster named Hydra? It was a beast fought by many heroes, including Hercules, and feared by all. The Hydra was a water dragon with many heads, however, if you cut off one of the heads, two more grew in its place.

This is an image of the Causation of War at the State Level. Many issues arise between governments that can be difficult. Conflicts might arise between neighboring states due to economic issues. However, if the economic issue is not resolved in the correct manner, it might cause a secondary religious or cultural conflict between the states, thus providing the Hydra-like circumstance of more problems growing from the elimination of one.

There are, of course, many possible scenarios for the beginning of a war. However, the two that stand out the most are usually a significant shift in the power balance between two or more states and the states' will toward conflict or its capability and need to prosecute a war. Both of these are related directly to domestic politics, domestic society and culture, and internal governmental limitations when it comes to national interest and foreign policy. We will discuss all of these issues, in some depth, as well as how these issues have arisen in warfare in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Hercules slaying the Hydra. An example of what war at the state level looks like.
Hercules and the Hydra

The Balance of Power and Will to Conduct War

In any state-level conflict, power and will are at the root. Power and will are both attributes of states that include various aspects such as economics, military might, international relations, and trade. All of these components can initiate and exacerbate a conflict due to fear of loss or transfer of power, the attitude of the populace, or any number of other negative impacts due to loss of control or economic stability.

Power can refer to any number of things including economic, military, influence, allies, technological, and other areas in which a state can project might. However, if the balance of power becomes tilted in any direction between two states, problems may emerge. This is initially what caused the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia in the 1950s. The US had projected extreme military power during World War II with its dropping of two nuclear bombs. After the end of WWII, Russia's fear of the United State's nuclear arsenal precipitated their own production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. This imbalance of power forced the US to meet the Russian military response and the race was on.

After WWII, the nuclear arms race between the US and USSR took off and did not decline for decades.
Nuclear Arms Race

Will refers more to the desire and willingness to accomplish a given aim. This can be based on the level of threat perceived by a state on the lower level of power in a particular area. An example of the will toward conflict is the US position in WWII when Germany's Third Reich began its own rise to military power, inflicting great harm in Europe and the British Isles. The US was content to stay basically neutral in the conflict until Japan, Germany's ally, attacked and destroyed the US Pacific Fleet in Hawaii. This action motivated the will of the US to enter WWII fully.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor precipitated the US entrance into WWII.
Pearl Harbor

Domestic and Foreign Policy Issues

Domestic and Foreign Policy are two areas in any state that affect the balance of power and will toward war. These policy affairs revolve around many factors including domestic politics, domestic society and culture, and internal governmental limitations related to national interest and foreign policy. Domestic refers mainly to issues within the state or issues at home. Foreign obviously deals with relations with foreign states or entities.

War and Domestic Politics

While it might not seem intuitive that politics within the state could cause a war to erupt, this is actually a known circumstance. Any number of political situations might cause a war, either from the domestic or foreign position. For instance, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, a domestic political call to arms led to a very rapid prosecution of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Analysis after the fact indicated that the actions of the terrorists were most likely precipitated by a perceived economic and military power projection from the US.

Many motivations caused the 9/11 attack in New York and the wars that followed.

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