The structure and dynamics of the international system or within human nature?
As such he devised 3 main Laws of Nature (sound maxims of reason): Seek peace; Lay down your right of nature [right to take everything] (this avoids conflict); Keep your covenants (rational to trust others). In other words, his advice was to be nice to people and cooperate. Furthermore, he believed that the main causes of conflict are greed, diffidence and the pursuit of glory. This reflects the idealist view on human nature and the international stage, bringing us to a useful point to return our focus to Van Evera’s 5 hypotheses, this time reviewing them from an empirical perspective.
We will consider four main conflicts that best illustrate the various forces that cause wars and use them to extrapolate the most suitable answer to the question posed. First we will consider World War Two; second, The Cold War (specifically The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962); third, The Gulf War of 1990/91 and fourth the Yugoslavian Conflict of 1992. These flash points in contemporary history have been chosen as they are well documented, well-known and illustrate various elements of the gross power and fine-grained power relations of which Van Evera speaks.
They are also useful for examination under more ‘usual’ terms, such as the polarity of the global picture, the ‘security dilemma’, ‘democratic peace’ and the usefulness, or otherwise, of international bodies within their specific context. The underlying causes of WWII are vast and complex, and far beyond the scope of this work, 8 yet it is the context in which this war was allowed to occur that is of concern here and is discussed below. If we tie in the theory and events surrounding WWII we can see that the international scene was one of great division.
The world was in a multi-polar construct, influenced by the belief in ‘The Balance of Powers’9 and was witness to the first IGO, the League of Nations (LoNs). The world was recovering from WWI (financially, militarily and socially) and was hit harder as the effects of the Wall Street Crash began to spread around the world. Add to this the inability of the USA to ratify the LoNs Treaty and we have a picture of a world in virtual chaos. Idealists would point to the weak LoNs as an explanation of the start of WWII, stating that without the appropriate ratification and support it was powerless to prevent such an event.
Classical Realists would say that is was bound to occur because of the conflictual nature of states, especially in a system based on power fluctuations (Balance of Powers) and in a multi-polar arena. 10 Van Evera would suggest that it was Germany’s false optimism regarding the outcome of the war, coupled with the misperception that conquest would be easy that led to the initial actions of WWII. In fact he would, most likely, argue further that Germany’s quick and easy victories in Czechoslovakia and Poland merely added to this feeling and precipitated further aggression. 11
Those arguing about the effect of human nature would say that this war was caused by an evil man, who was skilled in the art of orating and stirring up the most base and powerful of human emotions – fear and hate. These people would argue that Hitler reflected the popular feeling of insecurity at the time and offered an easy (and instinctive) way to reverse the situation – combat. It is clear that all of these schools of thought have valid points. The question as to which one deserves primacy as an idea is difficult to ascertain, especially from only one example, to-wit we move on to our other examples.
The conclusion of the Second World War brought about a renewed hope for international institutions and saw the creation of a new IGO – the UN. The idea of ‘Collective Security’12 was put forward in response to the old, seemingly failed, system of the Balance of Powers. Also, the global stage shifted from a multi to a bi-polar make-up, with the USA and Soviet Union emerging as the two super-powers of the time. Taking all this into account, a strong IGO, a bi-polar system and collective security people were, generally, convinced that this would bring about world peace and stability.
However, this did not occur and the world sank into The Cold War. One of the most infamous events of The Cold War, as well as the most typical, was The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. 13 For these reasons we shall investigate the data surrounding this incredible incident and see what conclusions may be drawn from it. Idealist would suggest that, despite the creation of a seemingly powerful and universal IGO its structure meant that it was powerless to prevent many of the conflicts within this period. 14 This meant that the liberal doctrine of Collective Security could not be implemented, leading to a growing sense of a ‘Security Dilemma’.
15 Realist followers would draw ones’ attention to the fact that the two opposing super-powers’ distrust of each other led to the Security Dilemma and the proceeding arms race. 16 It was only as the best interests of the state (i. e. its survival) were questioned and Mutually Assured Destruction was realised that the two premiers established an accord. The ‘brinkmanship’ witnessed during this, and many other moments of The Cold War, can be seen by behaviourists as a point for and against the argument that it is within human nature to fight.
On the one hand, nuclear war was very nearly witnessed – an occurrence that would, without doubt, have resulted in catastrophic loss of life on a global scale never seen before. On the other hand, each person was able to turn things around from such a dire possibility – valuing the sanctity of human life enough to seek a compromise deal. Again, from this example it is difficult to draw a suitable conclusion as regards the initial question. If we now look to global activities post-Cold War we see a slightly different picture, dominated by the primacy of the USA in a now uni-polar structure.
Although the Gulf War of 1990/91 was not avoided, it was brought to a swift conclusion under the guidance of the UN and the auspices of collective security. Here, Liberalists will argue that, although Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the cohesion of the UN and widespread support for action enabled it to act swiftly and decisively, preventing massive loss of life and restoring order. 17 Realists would counter, as before, that the war was instigated as a result of Van Evera’s hypotheses 1, 4 and 5 under Hussein’s guidance.
Behaviourists would argue in favour of this conflict being as a direct cause of individual human nature – Hussein being the sole person responsible for the attack, given that he was the leader of the totalitarian and authoritarian regime. This argument can be further countered, for how can one man’s actions be used to make a general assumption regarding the entirety of human nature? The conclusion of this war brought about the seminal work of Samuel Huntington (1992) – The Clash of Civilisations – where another possible explanation was developed; conflicts arise as a result of the conflict of ideologies and civilisations.
Under this school of thought, WWII could be seen as a result of the conflict between Fascism and Democracy; The Cold War as a conflict between Communism and Democracy/Capitalism and The Gulf War as a result of conflicts between Totalitarianism and Democracy (or, as some may argue, between Western Civilisation and the Islamic Tradition). 18 Finally, let us consider the effects that the break-up of Yugoslavia may have on this debate. In the previous conflict we were witness to a united UN, backed by all the members of the Security Council, driving forward with clearly defined and supported roles.
As the crisis in Yugoslavia began to escalate, under the spectre of Slobodan Milosevic, the EU and the UN (in particular the USA)19 were at loggerheads as to what to do to stop this problem. As a result ethnic cleansing on a level not seen for many decades was allowed to occur. It was not until the UN and the USA gave their backing that decisive action was taken and a resolution was found. This was a war based on ethnicity and this does not seem to fit into Van Evera’s model.
However, if we look closely, we can see that the discriminatory feelings towards differing ethnic groups can lead to the, seemingly usual, combination of the first and last hypotheses. Other Realists would see this as an attempt by the state to obtain what was in their best interests; in this case an ethnically pure homeland within historically owned boundaries. In response, Idealists would point out that the lack of cohesion or of clear roles for the UN and EU meant that the, otherwise, effective international institution was powerless. 20
Behaviourists would comment, again, on the effect of Milosevic on the populous – his selfish and evil agenda was enabled due to his use of people’s innate characteristics; he, like Hitler and Hussein before him, played on the fears and hates of people in order to effect a wave of support for his militant and inhumane actions. The Huntington posit could also be seen to hold sway here, as at the very centre of this conflict lay competing civilisations – ancient ethnic groupings that led to the clash in the first place. We have seen various theoretical and empirical explanations for the causes of war.
We have seen how in various instances one school may say to have a larger sway on that event, yet none, for me, seem to have a universal answer to this problem. They rely on specialised arguments to make a specific point. Although this makes them easily identifiable, it also makes them hard to fit on a broader picture. As such, and in conclusion, I would state that it is only when considering all the elements of the structure and dynamics of the international system along with the various elements of human nature that one can truly find the causes of war.
They are too various, complex and interdependent to take one as the primary source. For it is human nature to progress, this impacts on others and may lead to conflict, yet it is also in man’s character to seek peace and conform which leads to resolution. The various conflicts have been influenced by the structure and dynamics of the international system, but it is the human interaction within the states and the wider system that has an impact on this. In short, we have a ‘chicken and egg’ answer – they are both as important as each other when the causes of war are to be found.
While the UN is dependent on the support of its members for its power and not ostensibly the trans-national global governing structure it could be wars will continue. But unless mankind realises that they cannot take what they want without impacting on others, then no matter what system is in front of them conflict will not be able to be resolved.
Bibliography J. Black – War ; The World: Military Power and the Fate of Continents. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press (1998) B. Bueno de Mesquita – The War Trap. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press (1981) S.Hoffman – The State of War: Essays on the Theory ; Practice of International Politics. London: Pall Mall Press (1965)
Kegley ; Wittkopf – World Politics: Trends ; Transformations (8th Ed). London: Macmillan (2001) E. Luard – Conflict ; Peace in the International System. London: University of London Press (1968; 1970) M. Nicholson – International Relations: A Concise Introduction (2nd Ed). London: Palgrave (2002) S. Van Evera – Causes of War: Power ; the Roots of Conflict. New York: Cornell University Press (1999) 1 S. Van Evera The causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict.
Ithaca ; London: Cornell University Press (1999), Ch. 1. 2 Van Evera, Pg. 4. It should be noted that hypothesis 5 is widely referred to under its alternative nomenclature – The Security Dilemma. 3 Ibid. Pg. 6. 4 Ibid. Pg. 9. 5 Ibid. 6 As the individuals who make up the state have a large impact on the nature of that state it is right and sensible to consider the individuals at this point. We shall then consider the implications this has on the nature of the state, before going on to discuss the global picture and the various perspectives that exist on this front.
7 The Peloponnesian War being the first historical inter-state conflict of a relative magnitude that we may be expected to experience today. 8 For a useful summary and outline of the events surrounding WWII visit the BBC’s history website: http://www. bbc. co. uk/history/war/wwtwo/ 9 Used to refer to the doctrine and belief that the use of fluid alliances and power sharing acted as an effective deterrent to would-be aggressors. At its core lay the idea that power was a zero-sum calculation and in order to ensure that it stayed that way states would make and break alliances to suit the changing geo-political climate.
10 It has long been argued that bi-polar scenarios are more conducive to peace than a multi-polar situation. The effects of a uni-polar system are variously debated. See Nicholson, Ch. 6. 11 Van Evera, Ch. 2. 12 Universal entry for all states across the globe, in which an act of aggression against one member state was an act of aggression against all member states. Armed conflict was not allowed, unless as a defensive measure.
13 For a detailed account of this flash point see the National Security Archives: http://www. gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/ 14 The stalemate of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council ensuring that action was virtually impossible. 15 The situation where the increase in one states’ armaments leads to another states’ belief that they are preparing for aggressive manoeuvres. This then leads to the state increasing its armaments and pushing the cycle around again. This led to the arms race between the USA and USSR during this period and led to the concept of ‘Nuclear Deterrence’ and ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD).
16 Sitting snugly in conjunction with Van Evera’s dual model of false optimism based on the ease of conquest. 17 The extent to which order was restored is debatable, as witnessed by the 2003 Iraq war, but the argument centres on the hitherto peculiar coalescent nature of the UN. 18 One should also note that the existence of intra-disciplinary wars are extremely rare, especially between democratic states. So much so, in fact, that it has given rise to the concept of a ‘Democratic Peace’.
Followers of this school believe that in order to attain world peace we must make all states democratic, for then the cost of war; economically; politically and socially is too high to go to war with each other (the complex interdependence of these states makes war between them a ludicrous idea). See Nicholson, Ch. 6. 19 They saw this as a regional problem and not one that necessitated UN, or more particularly, US support. 20 In the Gulf War the UN was seen by Liberals to have finally grown up and become the instrument the believed was necessary in order to ensure global peace and order.