Why Nations Go to War: The Determinants of War

Why Nations Go to War

The first general theme that compels attention is that no nation that began a major war in the twentieth century emerged a winner. Austria-Hungary and Germany, which precipitated World War I, went down to ignominious defeat. Hitler’s Germany was crushed into unconditional surrender. The North Korean attack was thwarted by collective action and ended in a draw. Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam war to more than 500,000 American troops because he did not want to be the first American president to lose a war, whereupon he lost it anyway, and paid for it with more than 58,000 American lives. The Arabs, who invaded the new Jewish state in 1948, lost territory to the Israelis in four successive wars. Pakistan, which sought to punish India through preemptive war, was dismembered in the process. Iraq, which invaded Iran in 1980 confident of a quick victory, had to settle for a costly stalemate eight years and half a million casualties later. And when Saddam provoked most of the world by invading Kuwait in 1990, he was expelled by UN forces. Slobodan Milosevic, whose henchmen “cleansed” much of Bosnia of Croats and Moslems in the pursuit of a Greater Serbia, was forced to give back most of his conquests. And his “final solution” for the Albanians in Kosovo was nullified by an aroused NATO, which was repelled by barbarisms similar to those of the Nazi era. Hitler ended his own life, but Milosevic ended his in a jail cell.

In all cases, those who began a war took a beating. Neither the nature nor the ideology of the government that began hostilities made any difference. Aggressors were defeated whether they were capitalists or Communists, white or nonwhite, Western or non-Western, rich or poor. Twentieth-century aggressors fought for total stakes and hence made war a question of survival for their intended conquests. Those who were attacked had to fight for life itself, and courage born of desperation proved a formidable weapon. In the end, those who started the war were stemmed, turned back, and, in some cases, crushed completely. In no case did any nation that began a war achieve its ends.

It is not premature to draw some conclusions about the two wars that have made the dawn of the new century a watershed. First, none of us will ever be the same again after September 11, 2001. We now know that everything is possible, even the unthinkable. Even though there has not been another 9/11, there can be no real closure to that barbarous event as long as its perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, is alive or evades justice. In the meantime, the shadowy struggle against unseen enemies in every part of the globe must continue unabated. The failed attempt, on Christmas Day 2009, by a Nigerian terrorist who was hiding an explosive in his underwear, to blow up a plane carrying 289 other people, is a case in point.

It would be facile to assert that George W. Bush won his war against Saddam. To be sure, there was a swift military victory after three weeks. However, Saddam was missing, and marauding guerrilla bands still loyal to him killed more American soldiers after the war than during the war itself. The oft-repeated statements made by the Bush administration that the war’s outcome was not in doubt certainly did not reflect conditions three months after its official end, which Bush had declared on May 1, 2003, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. On July 3, a day when ten more American soldiers were wounded in three separate guerrilla attacks, the commander of allied forces in Iraq declared that “we’re still at war,” and the United States announced a reward of $25 million for the capture of Saddam Hussein or confirmation of his death, plus $15 million for each of his two sons. “Until we know for sure, their names will continue to cast a shadow of fear over this country,” Paul Bremer, the American civil administrator of Iraq, declared.1 When Saddam’s two sons were killed in a fierce firefight by U.S. troops, their funerals were attended by Iraqis shouting anti-American slogans. And, at Fort Stewart, Georgia, a colonel had to be escorted out of a meeting with 800 angry wives who wanted their husbands to come home. In August, there was the disastrous attack on the headquarters of the United Nations in Baghdad, claiming twenty-one lives including that of a top UN official. Moreover, November ushered in a quantum leap in violence when five U.S. helicopters were shot down, killing fifty-five GIs. Nineteen Italian soldiers, seven Spanish intelligence agents, and several Japanese and South Koreans were killed as well. The November total of coalition casualties approached the 100 mark.

The capture of Saddam on December 13 by American soldiers was no doubt the best day for the United States since the outbreak of the war. The president, who regarded Iraq as the central front against terrorism, lauded the event as a major victory.

In mid-2004 the Bush administration decided to turn over sovereignty to an Iraqi provisional government and to postpone drafting a constitution and holding national elections until January 2005. Moreover, the Americans embarked on tough new tactics including aerial bombardments, the erection of barriers, detentions, and razings that echoed Israel’s antiguerrilla methods. Yet the insurgency continued to rise steadily to a seething fury. “I see no difference between us and the Palestinians,” an Iraqi man complained while waiting to pass through an American checkpoint. “We didn’t expect anything like this after Saddam fell.” 2

The steady escalation of insurgency attacks during the months, and then years, of the “war after the war” clearly denied the Americans the victory they had announced with such confidence when Saddam’s statue was toppled from its pedestal in Baghdad. The facts suggest that Saddam’s capture was a significant success, but by no means a decisive victory. Americans continued to die in Iraq in ever rising numbers, surpassing the 4,000 mark by 2009. Gradually, the Americans were forced not only to battle a fierce insurgency but to keep Sunnis and Shiites from murdering each other in a desperate civil war. Victory seemed more and more like a mirage. Instead, by June 30, 2009, the date of American troop withdrawals, the number of Iraqi victims of suicide bombers had risen to frightening proportions.

With regard to the problem of the outbreak of war, the case studies indicate the crucial importance of the personalities of leaders. I am less impressed by the role of abstract forces, such as nationalism, militarism, or alliance systems, which traditionally have been regarded as the causes of war. Nor does a single one of the cases examined here indicate that economic factors played a vital part in precipitating war. The personalities of leaders, on the other hand, have often been decisive. Conventional wisdom has blamed the alliance system for the outbreak of World War I and the spread of the war. Specifically, the argument runs, Kaiser Wilhelm’s alliance with Austria dragged Germany into the war against the Allied powers. This analysis, however, totally ignores the part the Kaiser’s personality played during the gathering crisis. Suppose Wilhelm had had the fortitude to continue in his role as mediator and restrain Austria-Hungary instead of engaging in paranoid delusions and accusing England of conspiring against Germany? The disaster might have been averted; conventional wisdom would then have praised the alliance system for saving the peace instead of blaming it for causing the war. In truth, the emotional balance or lack of balance of the German Kaiser turned out to be crucial. Similarly, the relentless mediocrity of the leading personalities on all sides no doubt contributed to the disaster.

If one looks at the outbreak of World War II, there is no doubt that the financial burden of the victors’ peace terms at Versailles after World War I and the galloping inflation of the 1920s brought about the rise of Nazi Germany. But once again, it was the personality of Hitler that was decisive. A more rational leader would have consolidated his gains and certainly would not have attacked the Soviet Union. And if it had to be attacked, then a rational man would have made contingency plans to meet the Russian winter instead of anticipating a swift victory.

In the Korean War the hubris of General MacArthur probably prolonged the conflict by two years, and in Vietnam at least two American presidents, whose fragile egos would not allow them to face facts, first escalated the war quite disproportionately and then postponed its ending quite unreasonably. In the Middle East the volatile personality of Gamal Abdel Nasser was primarily responsible for the closing of the Gulf of Aqaba, the event that precipitated the Six-Day War of 1967. In 1971 Yahya Khan, the leader of West Pakistan, took his country to war with India because he would not be cowed by a woman, Indira Gandhi. In 1980, and again in 1990, Saddam Hussein made a personal decision to begin a war. Around the same time, Slobodan Milosevic, driven by personal ambition to become the leader of a Greater Serbia, launched his expansionary moves into neighboring Croatia and Bosnia, and finally, disastrously for him, into Kosovo.

There is no doubt that Osama bin Laden’s personality and his fanatical hatred of America inspired the nineteen terrorists who perpetrated the heinous deeds of September 11, 2001. If ever there was a quintessential fanatic, it certainly was the man who organized al-Qaida in the wastelands of Afghanistan.

George W. Bush’s road from Afghanistan to Iraq was paved by gradual steps toward the crusading end of the personality spectrum: First, his evangelical conversion predisposed him toward a Manichean, good-versus-evil worldview; second, the influence of neo-conservative intellectuals reinforced that worldview; third, bin Laden’s slipping from his grasp frustrated him; and last, Saddam Hussein’s attempt to assassinate his father triggered a personal grudge. All of these factors culminated in a fixation on Saddam, until Bush was convinced his tyrannical and dangerous presence had to be removed, peacefully if possible but by force of arms if necessary.

In all these cases, a leader’s personality was of critical importance and may, in fact, have spelled the difference between the outbreak of war and the maintenance of peace.

The case material reveals that perhaps the most important single precipitating factor in the outbreak of war is misperception.

Such distortion may manifest itself in four different ways: in a leader’s image of himself; in a leader’s view of his adversary’s character; in a leader’s view of his adversary’s intentions toward himself; and finally, in a leader’s view of his adversary’s capabilities and power. Each of these is important enough to merit separate and careful treatment.

1. There is remarkable consistency in the self-images of most national leaders on the brink of war. Each confidently expects victory after a brief and triumphant campaign. Doubt about the outcome is the voice of the enemy and therefore unacceptable. This recurring optimism is not to be dismissed lightly by the historian as an ironic example of human folly. It assumes a powerful emotional momentum of its own and thus itself becomes one of the causes of war. Anything that fuels such optimism about a quick and decisive victory makes war more likely, and anything that dampens it facilitates peace.

This common belief in a short, decisive war is usually the overflow from a reservoir of self-delusions held by a leader about both himself and his nation. The Kaiser’s appearance in shining armor in August 1914 and his promise to the German nation that its sons would be back home “before the leaves had fallen from the trees” was matched by similar expressions of military splendor and overconfidence in Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the other nations on the brink of war. Hitler’s confidence in an early German victory over the Soviet Union was so unshakable that no winter uniforms were issued to the Wehrmacht’s soldiers and no preparations whatsoever were made for the onset of the Russian winter. In November 1941, when the mud of autumn turned to ice and snow, the cold became the German soldier’s bitterest enemy. Tormented by arctic temperatures, men died, machines broke down, and the quest for warmth all but eclipsed the quest for victory. Hitler’s hopes and delusions about the German “master race” were shattered in the frozen wastes of the Soviet Union. The fact that Hitler had fought in World War I and had seen Germany’s optimism crumble in defeat did not prevent its reappearance.

When North Korea invaded South Korea, its leadership expected victory within two months. The Anglo-French campaign at Suez in 1956 was spurred by the expectation of a swift victory. In Pakistan Yahya Khan hoped to teach Indira Gandhi a lesson modeled on the Six-Day War in Israel. In Vietnam every American escalation in the air or on the ground was an expression of the hope that a few more bombs, a few more troops, would bring decisive victory. Saddam Hussein expected a quick victory over Iran but got instead a bloody stalemate. Ten years later, he once again expected an easy triumph, this time over Kuwait, but instead provoked the world’s wrath and took a severe beating. In Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic’s belief that destiny had chosen him to be the leader of a Greater Serbia nourished his conviction that he was invincible. He did gain much ground early in the war, but later was forced to give it back even more quickly. Israel’s swift victories in its wars against four Arab nations made its military leadership confident of a quick and decisive victory over Hezbollah in 2006. Instead, its army was fought to a standstill by a determined guerrilla force. Finally, the Americans were so confident of victory in Iraq that they failed to prepare adequately for postwar reconstruction. The resulting power vacuum invited a fierce insurgency that nullified the Americans’ early successes. Indeed, coalition casualties rose to ever greater heights. In the fall of 2006, when the facts on the ground clearly precluded victory, President Bush still promised it in ringing tones, but his successor’s only choice remained a gradual withdrawal.

Leaders on all sides typically harbor self-delusions on the eve of war. Only war itself provides the stinging ice of reality and ultimately helps to restore a measure of perspective in the leadership, and the price for recapturing reality is high indeed. It is unlikely that there ever was a war that fulfilled the initial hopes and expectations of both sides.

2. Distorted views of the adversary’s character also help to precipitate a conflict. As the pressure mounted in July 1914, the German Kaiser explosively admitted that he “hated the Slavs, even though one should not hate anyone.” This hatred no doubt influenced his decision to vacate his role as mediator and to prepare for war. Similarly, his naïve trust in the honesty of the Austrian leaders prompted him to extend to them the blank-check guarantee that dragged him into war. In reality the Austrians were more deceitful than he thought, and the Russians were more honest. Worst of all, the British leadership, which worked so desperately to avert a general war, was seen by Wilhelm as the center of a monstrous plot to encircle and destroy the German nation. Hitler, too, had no conception of what the Soviet Union really was like. He knew nothing of its history and believed that it was populated by subhuman barbarians who could be crushed with one decisive stroke and then made to serve as German supermen’s slaves. This relentless hatred and ignorant contempt for the Soviet Union became a crucial factor in Hitler’s ill-fated assault of 1941.

Perhaps the most important reason for the American military intervention in Vietnam was the American leadership’s misreading of the nature of Communism in Asia. President Lyndon Johnson committed more than half a million combat troops to an Asian land war because he believed that Communism was still a monolithic octopus, with North Vietnam its tentacle. He did this more than a decade after the death of Stalin, at a time when Communism had splintered into numerous ideological and political fragments. His total ignorance of Asia in general, and of Vietnam in particular, made him perceive the Vietnam war in purely Western terms: a colossal shoot-out between the forces of Communism and those of anti-Communism. The fact that Ho Chi Minh saw Americans as successors of French imperialism-whom he was determined to drive out-was completely lost on Johnson. Virtue, righteousness, and justice, so Johnson thought, were fully on his side. America, the child of light, had to defeat the child of darkness in a twentieth-century crusade.

Mutual contempt and hatred also hastened the outbreak of the wars between the Arab states and Israel and between India and Pakistan. In the former case, the Arab view of Israel as an alien and hostile presence was a precipitating cause of conflict. In the latter, the two religions of Hinduism and Islam led directly to the creation of two hostile states that clashed in bloody conflict four times in half a century. Saddam Hussein’s contempt for the Americans and his boast that he would annihilate them in the “mother of all battles” led straight to his defeat. Milosevic’s distorted perception of the Turkish victory over the Serbs at Kosovo in 1389 prompted him to turn his fury against the Moslem Albanians in Kosovo 600 years later. In January 2002, President Bush designated Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as members of an “evil axis.” Iran and Iraq responded by fanning the fires of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, and North Korea regarded Bush’s statement as a declaration of war. Yet Bush’s primary target clearly was Saddam Hussein. Although the Bush administration liked to compare him to Hitler and Stalin, the Iraqi dictator’s reach was never global, unlike that of his two predecessors. Besides, the man who had precipitated 9/11 and murdered 3,000 civilians continued to remain at large. And Bush unwisely diverted resources from the real criminal, bin Laden, to Saddam.

3. When a leader on the brink of war believes that his adversary will attack him, the chances of war are fairly high. When both leaders share this perception about each other’s intent, war becomes a virtual certainty. The mechanism of the selffulfilling prophecy is then set in motion. When leaders attribute evil designs to their adversaries, and they nurture these beliefs for long enough, they will eventually be proved right. The mobilization measures that preceded the outbreak of World War I were essentially defensive measures triggered by the fear of the other side’s intent. The Russian czar mobilized because he feared an Austrian attack; the German Kaiser mobilized because he feared the Russian “steamroller.” The nightmare of each then became a terrible reality. Stalin was so constrained by the Marxist tenet that capitalists would always lie that he disbelieved Churchill’s accurate warnings about Hitler’s murderous intent, and the Soviet Union almost lost the war. Eisenhower and Dulles were so thoroughly convinced that the Chinese would move against the French in Indochina, as they had against MacArthur’s UN forces, that they committed the first American military advisers to Vietnam. The Chinese never intervened, but the Americans had begun their march along the road into the Vietnam quagmire. Arabs and Israelis generally expected nothing but the worst from one another, and these expectations often led to war. The Palestinians’ conviction that Israel intended to hold on to the occupied territories forever precipitated two intifadas and countless suicide bombings that in turn prompted Israeli retaliatory attacks-a cycle of ferocity unprecedented even in that tortured region. And Milosevic’s belief at Kosovo that the Albanians were out to oust the Serbs launched his subjugation of other ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, especially the Albanians.

It was in this area-a leader’s view of his adversary’s intention- that the Americans found the fundamental basis for going to war with Iraq. For the Bush administration, the invasion’s core rationale was the suspected existence of hidden arsenals of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including chemical and biological agents and possibly even nuclear weapons that, if real, posed a direct and imminent danger to the United States. “I will disarm Saddam,” the president declared repeatedly.

This perception persisted despite numerous reports from UN inspectors that struck a far more cautionary note. Finally, when Saddam began to destroy some of his conventional missiles, Bush changed his goal from disarmament to regime change. His fixation had solidified into a determination to rid the world of Saddam, no matter what.

After the war, when no weapons of mass destruction were found anywhere in Iraq, the Bush administration, despite accumulating evidence that it had selected only those intelligence reports that supported its view of Saddam and rejected all that cast doubt on Saddam’s weapons caches, clung to its assumptions that “we will find them.” Even when, in October 2003, six months after the beginning of the war, David Kay, the United States’s chief weapons inspector, informed Congress that no illicit weapons had been found, but suggested that the search be continued, the Bush administration requested $600 million to carry on the hunt for conclusive evidence. Yet, in January 2004, Mr. Kay, who had decided to retire, announced that he had concluded that Iraq did not possess any large stockpiles of illicit weapons at the start of the war in 2003. The UN inspectors, whose reports on weapons of mass destruction turned out, after the war, to be quite accurate, were belittled and denied access to postwar Iraq by the Americans. And, finally, in 2006, Paul Pillar, CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Near East from 2000 to 2005, declared that the Bush administration had misused intelligence to justify decisions already made in Iraq. Regarding the alleged ties between Saddam and bin Laden, when no definitive proof of any such link was ever found-when in fact it was emphatically denied by captured al-Qaida operatives- the administration remained adamant that such a conspiracy had existed. It did finally admit that there was no evidence that Saddam had been involved in the attacks of 9/11. So far as the presence of alQaida in Iraq was concerned, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy when that nation, during the U.S.-led occupation, became a magnet for terrorists under al-Qaida’s barbaric Abu al-Zarqawi.

There may be fine lines of distinction between a misperception, an exaggeration, and an outright lie. But it must be asserted that the decision to go to war is the most solemn one a president can make and therefore must be made on the basis of all the available evidence, not those parts only that fit the doctrine of a crusader. Yet, to persuade the American people to go to war on the basis of Saddam’s evil character alone might not have been enough. The direct threat of lethal weapons had to be added to make the case convincing. It was here that truth became a casualty. When it came to describing Saddam’s weapons program, Bush never hedged before the war. “If we know Saddam has dangerous weapons today-and we do-does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous weapons?” Bush asked during a speech in Cincinnati in October 2002.3 After the war, however, when no such weapons were actually found, the president shifted his emphasis from the immediacy of the threat to the assertion that, no matter what, the world was better off without Saddam Hussein in power. When pressed on the topic by Diane Sawyer of ABC News on December 16, with Saddam already in American custody, the president responded sharply: “So, what’s the difference?” he asked rhetorically.4

The answer, I believe, is as follows: “With respect, Mr. President, mote than 4,000 American casualties and more than 40,000 American wounded, numerous other coalition casualties, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties for each year of the war, and enormous sums of money that the United States can ill afford. That’s the difference.”

This point was underlined by Barton Gellman of the Washington Post on January 7, 2004. Based on numerous interviews with leading Iraqi scientists, he concluded that Iraq’s unconventional weapons arsenal existed “only on paper.”

Investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germwarfare agents such as anthrax bacteria, and no work on a new designer pathogen-combining pox virus and snake venom-that led U.S. scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months. The investigators decided that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a “grave and gathering danger” by President Bush and a “mortal threat” by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by UN inspectors in the 1990s.5

4. A leader’s misperception of his adversary’s power is perhaps the quintessential cause of war. It is vital to remember, however, that it is not the actual distribution of power that precipitates a war; it is the way in which a leader thinks that power is distributed. A war will start when nations disagree over their perceived strength. The war itself then becomes a dispute over measurement. Reality is gradually restored as war itself cures war; the fighting will end when nations form a more realistic perception of each other’s strength.

Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914 had nothing but contempt for Russia’s power. This disrespect was to cost them dearly. Hitler repeated this mistake a generation later, and his misperception led straight to his destruction. One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon took place in the Korean War. MacArthur, during his advance through North Korea toward the Chinese border, stubbornly believed that the Chinese Communists did not have the capability to intervene. When the Chinese crossed the Yalu River into North Korea, MacArthur clung to the belief that he was facing 40,000 men; the true figure was closer to 200,000. When the Chinese forces temporarily withdrew after an initial engagement to assess their impact on MacArthur’s army, the American general assumed that the Chinese were badly in need of rest after their encounter with superior Western military might. When the Chinese attacked again and drove MacArthur all the way back to South Korea, the leader of the UN forces perceived this action as a “piece of treachery worse even than Pearl Harbor.” Most amazing about MacArthur’s decisions is that the real facts were entirely available from his own intelligence sources, if only the general had cared to look at them. But he thought he knew better and thus prolonged the war by two more years. Only at war’s end did the Americans gain respect for China’s power and take care not to provoke the Chinese again beyond the point of no return.

Despite the lessons of Korea, in the Vietnam War the American leadership committed precisely the same error vis-à-vis North Vietnam. Five successive presidents believed that Ho Chi Minh would collapse if only a little more military pressure was brought to bear on him, either from the air or on the ground. The North Vietnamese leader proved them all mistaken, and only when America admitted that North Vietnam could not be beaten did the war come to an end. In both Korea and Vietnam the price of reality was high indeed. As these wars resolved less and less, they tended to cost more and more in blood and money. The number of dead on all sides bore mute testimony to the fact that America had to fight two of the most terrible and divisive wars in her entire history before she gained respect for the realities of power on the other side. In Pakistan, Yahya Khan had to find out to his detriment that a woman for whom he had nothing but disdain was better schooled in the art of war than he, did not permit her wishes to dominate her thoughts, and was able finally to dismember Pakistan. Only a quarter century later, when both India and Pakistan went nuclear, did these two nations regard each other with respect and gradually developed their own regional balance of power. In 1948 the Arabs believed that an invasion by five Arab armies would quickly put an end to Israel. They were mistaken. But in 1973 Israel, encouraged to the point of hubris after three successful wars, viewed Arab power only with contempt and its own power as unassailable. That too was wrong, as Israel had to learn when, a decade later, Palestinian suicide bombers drove the Israelis to despair with a campaign of terror. In the Persian Gulf, the invading Iraqis were amazed at the “fanatical zeal” of the Iranians, whom they had underestimated. In 1991 Saddam Hussein’s belief that the Americans were too weak and cowardly to expel him from Kuwait led straight to his defeat. And again, in 2003, Saddam remained convinced that the Americans would be too fearful to attack him. The Bosnian Serbs’ contemptuous prediction that they would drown the Moslems and the Croats in the ocean came back to haunt them when they were put to flight by their intended victims. And, like Saddam before him, Milosevic’s conviction that NATO was too passive and divided to intervene in the former Yugoslavia led directly to his own surrender in Kosovo.

Finally, the Americans underestimated Iraqi resistance in 2003, not during the war itself, but afterwards when, to their dismay, tenacious guerrilla movements claimed a growing number of American lives. “Bring ’em on,” Bush exclaimed in growing frustration, but the casualties kept rising nonetheless. This realization forced allied military commanders to admit that the war was far from over.

In the case of North Korea, by contrast, Bush, despite his “loathing” for Kim Jong Il, had an accurate perception of North Korea’s military capabilities.6 Kim’s nuclear weapons and his 1-million-man standing army no doubt helped deter the American president from a preemptive strike on North Korea à la Iraq. Thus, misperception hastens war, while recognition of reality tends to avert it.

Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 constituted a classic example of each combatant misperceiving the other’s power. Israel underestimated the guerrilla army’s tenacity and was shocked when it was fought to a standstill after the longest war in Israel’s history. Hezbollah, and Hamas in turn, were shocked that the kidnapping of one or two Israeli soldiers would trigger such ferocious responses.

Hence, on the eve of each war, at least one nation misperceives another’s power. In that sense, the beginning of each war is an accident. The war itself then slowly, and in agony, reveals the true strength of each opponent. Peace is made when reality has won. The outbreak of war and the coming of peace are separated by a road that leads from misperception to reality. The most tragic aspect of this truth is that war itself has remained the best teacher of reality and thus has been the most effective cure for war.

Source: John G. Stoessinger, “Why Nations Go to War,” Cengage Learning, Boston, 2011

Republished by Kajian Internasional Strategis


3 Responses to “Why Nations Go to War: The Determinants of War”

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