I organize this review and assessment of the literature on the causes of war around a levels-of-analysis framework and focus primarily on balance of power theories, power transition theories, the relationship between economic interdependence and war, diversionary theories of conflict, domestic coalitional theories, and the nature of decision-making under risk and uncertainty. I analyze several trends in the study of war that cut across different theoretical perspectives. Although the field is characterized by enormous diversity and few lawlike propositions, it has made significant progress in the past decade or two: Its theories are more rigorously formulated and more attentive to the causal mechanisms that drive behavior, its research designs are more carefully constructed to match the tested theories, and its scholars are more methodologically self-conscious in the use of both quantitative and qualitative methods.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Axelrod R. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books 241 pp. [Google Scholar]
  2. Axelrod R. 1997. The Complexity of Cooperation: Agent-Based Models of Competition and Collaboration. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 232 pp. [Google Scholar]
  3. Baldwin DA. 1993. Neorealism and Neoliberalism. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 377 pp. [Google Scholar]
  4. Barbieri K. 1996. Economic interdependence: a path to peace or source of interstate conflict?. J. Peace Res. 33:29–49 [Google Scholar]
  5. Barbieri K, Levy JS. 1997. Sleeping with the enemy: trade between adversaries during wartime.. Presented at Annu. Meet. Am. Polit. Sci. Assoc., Washington, DC
  6. Barnett MN, Levy JS. 1991. Domestic sources of alliances and alignments: the case of Egypt, 1962–73.. Int. Organ. 45:369–95 [Google Scholar]
  7. Brams SJ. 1994. Theory of Moves. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 248 pp. [Google Scholar]
  8. Brecher M, Wilkenfeld J, Moser S. 1988. Crises in the Twentieth Century. 2 Vols. New York: Pergamon 346 pp., 280 pp. [Google Scholar]
  9. Bremer SA. 1992. Dangerous dyads: conditions affecting the likelihood of interstate war, 1816–1965.. J. Confl. Resolut. 36:309–41 [Google Scholar]
  10. Bremer SA, Cusack TR. 1996. The Process of War: Advancing the Scientific Study of War. Philadelphia: Gordon Breach [Google Scholar]
  11. Bronson R. 1997. Searching for legitimacy: diversionary theory reconsidered.. PhD thesis. Columbia Univ
  12. Brown M, Lynn-Jones SM, Miller SE. 1995. The Perils of Anarchy: Contemporary Realism and International Security. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 519 pp. [Google Scholar]
  13. Bueno de Mesquita B. 1981. The War Trap. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press 223 pp. [Google Scholar]
  14. Bueno de Mesquita B, Lalman D. 1992. War and Reason. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press 322 pp. [Google Scholar]
  15. Bueno de Mesquita B. 1996. The benefits of a social-scientific approach to studying international affairs. In Explaining International Relations since 1945, ed. N. Woods 49–76 New York: Oxford Univ. Press
  16. Bueno de Mesquita B, Siverson RM. 1995. War and the survival of political leaders: a comparative study of regime types and political accountability.. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 89:841–55 [Google Scholar]
  17. Cashman G. 1993. What Causes War? New York: Lexington Books 360 pp.
  18. Choucri NC, North RC. 1975. Nations in Conflict. San Francisco: Freeman 356 pp. [Google Scholar]
  19. Coser LA. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict. Glencoe, IL: Free 188 pp. [Google Scholar]
  20. Diehl PF. ed 1998. The Dynamics of Enduring Rivalries. Urbana-Champaign: Univ. Illinois Press. In press [Google Scholar]
  21. Downs GW, Rocke DM. 1995. Optimal Imperfection? Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 159 pp.
  22. Doyle MW. 1997. Ways of War and Peace. New York: Norton 557 pp. [Google Scholar]
  23. Elshtain JB. 1987. Women and War. New York: Basic Books 288 pp. [Google Scholar]
  24. Enloe C. 1990. Bananas, Beaches and Bases. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press 244 pp. [Google Scholar]
  25. Fearon JD. 1994. Signaling versus the balance of power and interests: an empirical test of a crisis bargaining model.. J. Confl. Resolut. 38:236–69 [Google Scholar]
  26. Fearon JD. 1995. Rationalist explanations for war.. Int. Organ. 49:379–414 [Google Scholar]
  27. Fukuyama F. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Avon Books 418 pp. [Google Scholar]
  28. Gaddis JL. 1992. International relations theory and the end of the Cold War.. Int. Secur. 17:5–58 [Google Scholar]
  29. Gaubatz K. 1991. Election cycles and war.. J. Confl. Resolut. 35:212–44 [Google Scholar]
  30. Geller DS. 1993. Power differentials and war in rival dyads.. Int. Stud. Q. 37:173–93 [Google Scholar]
  31. Gelpi C. 1997. Democratic diversions: governmental structure and the externalization of domestic conflict.. J. Confl. Resolut. 41:255–82 [Google Scholar]
  32. George AL. 1969. The ‘operational code’: a neglected approach to the study of political leaders and decision-making.. Int. Stud. Q. 13:190–222 [Google Scholar]
  33. George AL. 1982. Case studies and theory development.. Presented at 2nd Annu. Symp. Inf. Process. Org., Pittsburgh, PA, Oct 15–16
  34. George AL, Smoke R. 1974. Deterrence in American Foreign Policy. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 666 pp. [Google Scholar]
  35. Gilpin R. 1981. War & Change in World Politics. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 272 pp. [Google Scholar]
  36. Goertz G, Diehl PF. 1992. Territorial Changes and International Conflict. London: Routledge 180 pp. [Google Scholar]
  37. Grieco JM. 1990. Cooperation Among Nations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 255 pp. [Google Scholar]
  38. Gulick EV. 1955. Europe’s Classical Balance of Power. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 337 pp. [Google Scholar]
  39. Gurr TR. 1989. Polity II: political structures and regime change, 1800–1986.. Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research
  40. Holsti KJ. 1991. Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and International Order 1648–1989. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 379 pp. [Google Scholar]
  41. Holsti KJ. 1996. The State, War, and the State of War. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 254 pp. [Google Scholar]
  42. Holsti OR. 1967. Cognitive dynamics and images of the enemy. In Image and Reality in World Politics, ed. JC Farrell, AP Smith 16–39 New York: Columbia Univ. Press. 140 pp
  43. Holsti OR. 1989. Crisis decision making.. See Tetlock, et al 1989 8–84
  44. Huntington SP. 1993. Why international primacy matters.. Int. Secur. 17:68–83 [Google Scholar]
  45. Huntington SP. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster 367 pp. [Google Scholar]
  46. Jervis R. 1976. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 445 pp. [Google Scholar]
  47. Jervis R. 1978. Cooperation under the security dilemma.. World Polit. 30:167–214 [Google Scholar]
  48. Jervis R. 1988. War and misperception.. J. Interdiscip. Hist. 18:675–700 [Google Scholar]
  49. Jervis R. 1997. System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 309 pp. [Google Scholar]
  50. Jones DM, Bremer SA, Singer JD. 1996. Militarized interstate disputes, 1816–1992: rationale, coding rules, and empirical patterns.. Confl. Manage. Peace Sci. 15:163–213 [Google Scholar]
  51. Kahneman D, Tversky A. 1979. Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk.. Econometrica 47:263–91 [Google Scholar]
  52. Katzenstein PJ. ed 1996. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 562 pp. [Google Scholar]
  53. Keohane RO. ed 1986. Neorealism and Its Critics. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 378 pp. [Google Scholar]
  54. Keohane RO. 1989. International Institutions and State Power. Boulder, CO: Westview [Google Scholar]
  55. Kindleberger CP. 1973. The World in Depression, 1929–1939. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press 336 pp. [Google Scholar]
  56. King G, Keohane RO, Verba S. 1994. Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 245 pp. [Google Scholar]
  57. Kugler J. 1993. Political conflict, war, and peace. In Political Science: The State of the Discipline II, ed. A Finifter 483–509 Washington, DC: Am. Polit. Sci. Assoc
  58. Kugler J, Lemke D. 1996. Parity and War. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. Mich. Press 383 pp. [Google Scholar]
  59. Lebow RN. 1981. Between Peace and War. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press 350 pp. [Google Scholar]
  60. Leng RJ. 1993. Interstate Crisis Behavior, 1816–1980: Realism versus Reciprocity. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 259 pp. [Google Scholar]
  61. Lenin VI. 1939 (1916). Imperialism. New York: International 128 pp. [Google Scholar]
  62. Levy JS. 1983. War in the Modern Great Power System, 1495–1975. Lexington: Univ. Press Kentucky 215 pp. [Google Scholar]
  63. Levy JS. 1985. Theories of general war.. World Polit. 37:344–74 [Google Scholar]
  64. Levy JS. 1989a. The diversionary theory of war: a critique. In Handbook of War Studies, ed. MI Midlarsky 258–88 London: Allen & Unwin
  65. Levy JS. 1989b. The causes of war: a review of theories and evidence.. See Tetlock et al 1989 209–333
  66. Levy JS. 1994. Learning and foreign policy: sweeping a conceptual minefield.. Int. Organ. 48:279–312 [Google Scholar]
  67. Levy JS. 1997a. Prospect theory, rational choice, and international relations.. Int. Stud. Q. 41:87–112 [Google Scholar]
  68. Levy JS. 1997b. The study of war in political science.. Presented at Summary Conf., Study War Proj., Triangle Inst. Secur. Stud., 1st Div. Mus., Cantigny, IL, June 10–13
  69. May ER. 1973. Imperial Democracy. New York: Harper Torchbacks 318 pp. [Google Scholar]
  70. Mearsheimer JJ. 1990. Back to the future: instability in Europe after the Cold War.. Int. Secur. 15:5–56 [Google Scholar]
  71. Midlarsky MI. ed 1990. Big wars, little wars—a single theory?. Int. Interact. 16: Spec. issue [Google Scholar]
  72. Montesquieu CL. 1977. (1748). The Spirit of the Laws. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press 479 pp. [Google Scholar]
  73. Morgan TC, Bickers K. 1992. Domestic discontent and the external use of force.. J. Confl. Resolut. 36:25–53 [Google Scholar]
  74. Morgenthau HJ. 1967. Politics Among Nations. New York: Knopf 615 pp. 4th ed [Google Scholar]
  75. Morrow JD. 1991. Electoral and congressional incentives and arms control.. J. Confl. Resolut. 35:245–65 [Google Scholar]
  76. Morrow JD. 1994. Game Theory for Political Scientists. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press 376 pp. [Google Scholar]
  77. Mueller JE. 1973. War, Presidents, and Public Opinion. New York: Wiley 300 pp. [Google Scholar]
  78. Mueller J. 1989. Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War. New York: Basic Books 327 pp. [Google Scholar]
  79. Oneal JR, Russett BM. 1997. The classical liberals were right: democracy, interdependence, and conflict, 1950–1985.. Int. Stud. Q. 41:267–94 [Google Scholar]
  80. Organski AFK, Kugler J. 1980. The War Ledger. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press 292 pp. [Google Scholar]
  81. Ostrom CW, Job BL. 1986. The president and the political use of force.. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 80:554–66 [Google Scholar]
  82. Peterson VS. 1992. Gendered States. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner 225 pp. [Google Scholar]
  83. Polachek SW. 1980. Conflict and trade.. J. Confl. Resolut. 24:57–78 [Google Scholar]
  84. Posen BR. 1984. The Sources of Military Doctrine. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 283 pp. [Google Scholar]
  85. Powell R. 1990. Nuclear Deterrence Theory. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 230 pp. [Google Scholar]
  86. Rasler KA, Thompson WR. 1994. The Great Powers and Global Struggle, 1490–1990. Lexington: Univ. Press Kentucky 275 pp. [Google Scholar]
  87. Ray JL. 1998. Does democracy cause peace?. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 1:27–46 [Google Scholar]
  88. Ray JL. 1995. Democracy and International Conflict: An Evaluation of the Democratic Peace Proposition. Columbia: Univ. S. Carolina Press 243 pp. [Google Scholar]
  89. Ricardo D. 1977. (1817.) . The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. New York: Dutton 300 pp. [Google Scholar]
  90. Richards D, Morgan TC, Wilson R, Schwebach V, Young G. 1993. Good times, bad times, and the diversionary use of force: a tale of not-so-free agents.. J. Confl. Resolut. 37:504–35 [Google Scholar]
  91. Rosecrance R. 1986. The Rise of the Trading State. New York: Basic Books 268 pp. [Google Scholar]
  92. Rosenau JN. 1980. The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy. New York: Nichols 577 pp. [Google Scholar]
  93. Rummel R. 1963. Dimensions of conflict behavior within and between nations.. Gen. Syst. 8:1–50 [Google Scholar]
  94. Russett B. 1989. Economic decline, electoral pressure, and the initiation of international conflict. In The Prisoners of War, ed. C Gochman, NA Sabrosky 123–40 Lexington, MA: Lexington Books
  95. Russett B. 1990. Controlling the Sword. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press 201 pp. [Google Scholar]
  96. Sabrosky A. ed 1985. Polarity and War. Boulder, CO: Westview 231 pp. [Google Scholar]
  97. Singer JD. 1961. The levels of analysis problem in international relations. In The International System: Theoretical Essays, ed. K Knorr, S Verba 77–92 Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press
  98. Singer JD, Small M. 1972. The Wages of War, 1816–1965: A Statistical Handbook. New York: Wiley 419 pp. [Google Scholar]
  99. Small M, Singer JD. 1982. Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage 373 pp. [Google Scholar]
  100. Smith Adam. 1937. (1776). An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. E Cannan. New York: Modern Library 976 pp.
  101. Smith A. 1995. International crises and domestic politics.. Presented at Annu. Meet. Am. Polit. Sci. Assoc., Chicago, IL
  102. Smith A. 1996. Diversionary foreign policy in democratic systems.. Int. Stud. Q. 40:133–53 [Google Scholar]
  103. Snyder J. 1991. Myths of Empire: Domestic Politics and Strategic Ideology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 330 pp. [Google Scholar]
  104. Stein AA. 1976. Conflict and cohesion.. J. Confl. Resolut. 20:143–72 [Google Scholar]
  105. Stein JG. 1996. Image, identity, and conflict resolution. In Managing Global Chaos, ed. CA Crocker, FO Hampson, with P Aall 93–111 Washington, DC: US Inst. Peace
  106. Suganami H. 1996. On the Causes of War. New York: Oxford Univ. Press 235 pp. [Google Scholar]
  107. Sylvester C. 1994. Feminist Theory and International Relations in a Postmodern Era. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 265 pp. [Google Scholar]
  108. Tetlock PE, Husbands JL, Jervis R, Stern PC, Tilly C. eds 1989. Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War. New York: Oxford Univ. Press 401 pp. [Google Scholar]
  109. Thompson WR. 1988. On Global War. Columbia: Univ. S. Carolina Press 315 pp. [Google Scholar]
  110. Tickner JA. 1992. Gender in International Relations. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 180 pp. [Google Scholar]
  111. Van Evera S. 1990/1991. Primed for peace: Europe after the Cold War.. Int. Secur. 15:7–57 [Google Scholar]
  112. Vasquez JA. 1993. The War Puzzle. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press 378 pp. [Google Scholar]
  113. Vasquez JA. 1996. Distinguishing rivals that go to war from those that do not.. Int. Stud. Q. 40:531–58 [Google Scholar]
  114. Vasquez JA. 1997. The realist paradigm and degenerative versus progressive research programs: an appraisal of neotraditional research on Waltz’s balancing proposition.. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 91:899–912 [Google Scholar]
  115. Walker TC. 1998. The forgotten prophet: Thomas Paine's democratic peace.. Presented at Annu. Meet. Int. Stud. Assoc., 39th, Minneapolis, MN
  116. Walt SM. 1987. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 321 pp. [Google Scholar]
  117. Waltz KN. 1959. Man, the State, and War. New York: Columbia Univ. Press 263 pp. [Google Scholar]
  118. Waltz KN. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley 251 pp. [Google Scholar]
  119. Waltz KN. 1988. The origins of war in neorealist theory.. J. Interdiscip. Hist. 18:615–28 [Google Scholar]
  120. Wilkenfeld J. ed 1973. Conflict Behavior and Linkage Politics. New York: McKay 388 pp. [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error