Understanding the Causes of War

War is the use of a force, typically military, to influence or coerce others into complying with one’s wishes. It is a form of political violence, which extends beyond a nation-state’s territorial boundaries and its borders, and involves the use of diplomacy, economic and information operations, social influence and education, and physical force to enforce one’s will.

In modern times, the concept of “war” and its meaning have become increasingly fluid as nations engage in a broader range of conflicts, with non-state actors often playing an increasing role. This change requires strategic leaders to rethink traditional characteristics of warfare, including the definition of “war” itself.

Contemporary theories of the causes of war divide into two camps: those that attribute it to innate biological and psychological factors or drives, and those that attribute it to specific social relations and institutions. Optimists believe that human nature has the capacity to prevent war; pessimists argue that war is inevitable in the face of a variety of circumstances, including social structure, environment, and history.

The first theory posits that humans have an innate desire to kill and destroy. It is based on the work of ethologists, who study animal behaviour and its relationships to human society. It also focuses on the evolution of hunter-gatherer societies, which may have helped to develop the capacity for collective killing that has been identified by archaeologists.

This theory is supported by evidence that early societies had a greater tendency to kill outsiders than did later ones. Anthropologists and archaeologists have studied the origins of these early conflicts to identify when and how war-like behavior emerged.

Another theory posits that war began when societies became more complex and developed agriculture, requiring more resources to sustain a larger population. This theory is backed by archaeological and other evidence that shows groups of people fought and killed each other for food, territory, and control of resources.

It is important to note that this is a very limited explanation of the development of war and does not explain all cases of war. Nevertheless, it is an important foundation for understanding the development of a wide range of conflicts and their potential outcomes.

The Second Theory of War

In the Second Theory of War, Clausewitz posits that there are “many reasons” for war. These include a nation’s desire to gain or maintain power, a fear of extinction or other threats, and an interest in territory. The resulting conflict can be very complex, often drawing in multiple countries.

However, Clausewitz is careful to distinguish between “wars” that are “organised large-scale violence,” and those that are “organised small-scale violence.” This difference is important for understanding how wars differ from other forms of organised violence such as hooliganism.

As a result of this distinction, Clausewitz sees war as a continuum of engagement and not as an isolated act, as many scholars in the past have claimed. He is also able to articulate the importance of “the coherent execution of all means” in order to achieve a desired effect.