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Must War Find a Way? Richard K. Betts A Review Essay Stephen Van Evera, Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conºict Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999 War is like love, it always ªnds a way. —Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage Stephen Van Evera’s book revises half of a ªfteen-year-old dissertation that must be among the most cited in history. This volume is a major entry in academic security studies, and for some time it will stand beside only a few other modern works on causes of war that aspiring international relations theorists are expected to digest. Given that political science syllabi seldom assign works more than a generation old, it is even possible that for a while this book may edge ahead of the more general modern classics on the subject such as E.H. Carr’s masterful polemic, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, and Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War.1 166 International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 166–198© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Richard K. Betts is Leo A. Shifrin Professor of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and editor of Conºict after the Cold War: Arguments on Causes of War and Peace (New York: Longman, 1994). For comments on a previous draft the author thanks Stephen Biddle, Robert Jervis, and Jack Snyder. 1. E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 2d ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1946); and Kenneth N. Waltz, Man, the State, and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959). See also Waltz’s more general work, Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979); and Hans J. Morgenthau , Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 5th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1973). After these standard works, it is difªcult to select the most important from recent decades. Among them would be Quincy Wright, A Study of War, 2 volumes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942); and Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981). Most intense examination of the causes of war has come from scholars in the realist tradition. For a provocative attack on the main arguments in this tradition, see John Mueller, Retreat from Doomsday: The Obsolescence of Major War (New York: Basic Books, 1989). For a liberal perspective, see Michael W. Doyle, Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997). For the best overall review of contemporary literature, see Jack S. Levy, “The Causes of War: A Review of Theories and Evidence,” in Philip E. Tetlock, Jo L. Husbands, Robert Jervis, Paul C. Stern, and Charles Tilly, eds., Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, vol. 1 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). There is one particular book to which Van Evera’s especially begs comparison . Apparently unconcerned about having order clerks in college bookstores confuse his own book with a contemporary classic, he chose the same title as historian Geoffrey Blainey. In this generation, Blainey’s is the book most similar in scope, although different in approach and style, and it is one that will ultimately last at least as well. Blainey examined and debunked more than a dozen popular notions about why wars happen and, by process of elimination, settled on one main conclusion: “Wars usually begin when two nations disagree on their relative strength.” At least one of the nations in conºict must miscalculate who would succeed in a test of arms, or the weaker would yield without a ªght. Thus a clear pecking order in international relations may not necessarily produce justice, but it promotes peace. A roughly even balance of power, in contrast, makes miscalculation easier. The key to peace is clarity about the distribution of power.2 Blainey arrived at these spare and powerful conclusions inductively, and his book is a tapestry of unconventional questions, analytical excursions and examples, and ironic observations that social scientists would consider literate and lively but unsystematic. Van Evera travels a different route, one that proceeds more methodically and deductively and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 166-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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