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War is a social issue and is the reciprocal and violent application of force between hostile political entities aimed at bringing about a desired political end-state via armed conflict. In his seminal work On War, Carl Von Clausewitz calls war the "continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means." War is an interaction in which two or more militaries have a “struggle of wills”. When qualified as a civil war, it is a dispute inherent to a given society, and its nature is in the conflict over modes of governance rather than sovereignty. War is not considered to be the same as occupation, murder, or genocide because of the reciprocal nature of the violent struggle, and the organized nature of the units involved.
War is also a cultural entity, and its practice is not linked to any single type of political organization or society. Rather, as discussed by John Keegan in his “History Of Warfare”, war is a universal phenomenon whose form and scope is defined by the society that wages it.  The conduct of war extends along a continuum, from the almost universal tribal warfare that began well before recorded human history, to wars between city states, nations, or empires.
Tradeoff analysis theories
Wars happen when a group of people or an organization perceives the benefits that can be obtained to be greater than the cost. This can happen for a variety of reasons:
- To protect national pride by preventing the loss of territory
- To protect livelihood by preventing the loss of resources or by declaring independence
- To inflict punishment on the "wrongdoer", especially when one country is stronger than the other and can effectively deal out the punishment
- To kill without mercy and gain utter dominion over man.
Psychologists such as E.F.M. Durban and John Bowlby have argued that human beings are inherently violent. While this violence is repressed in normal society, it needs the occasional outlet provided by war. This mixes with other notions such as displacement, where a person transfers their grievances into bias and hatred against other ethnic groups, racial groups, religions, nations or ideologies. While these theories may have some explanatory value about why wars occur, they do not explain when or how they occur. Nor do they explain the existence of certain human cultures completely devoid of war. If the innate psychology of the human mind is unchanging, these variations are inconsistent. A solution adapted to this problem by militarists such as Franz Alexander is that peace does not really exist. Periods that are seen as peaceful are actually periods of preparation for a later war or when war is suppressed by a state of great power, such as the Pax Britannica.
If war is innate to human nature, as is presupposed and predetermined (according to determinism philosophy) by many psychological theories, then there is little hope of ever escaping it. Psychologists have argued that while human temperament allows wars to occur, this only happens when mentally unbalanced people are in control of a nation. This school of thought argues leaders that seek war such as Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Stalin were mentally abnormal, but fails to explain the thousands of free and presumably sane people who wage wars at their behest. Some psychologists argue that such leaders are a manifestation of the build up of anger and madness repressed in modern societies and it is only they that are allowed to show various mental anomalies. Because people elect and support such leaders suggestions have been made that very few people are in fact sane and that modern society is an unhealthy one. Scientists such as Desmond Morris have argued that stress is the major cause of death in people of today. Heart failure, obesity, mental disorders and long lists of diseases are proven to be related to stress. Therefore showing that the rise of insane leaders is due to a very toxic environment in which presumably healthy individuals exist and that social pressure forces mentally healthy people to participate in conflicts.
A distinct branch of the psychological theories of war are the arguments based on evolutionary psychology. This school tends to see war as an extension of animal behaviour, such as territoriality and competition. However, while war has a natural cause, the development of technology has accelerated human destructiveness to a level that is irrational and damaging to the species. The earliest advocate of this theory was Konrad Lorenz. These theories have been criticized by scholars such as John G. Kennedy, who argue that the organized, sustained war of humans differs more than just technologically from the territorial fights between animals. Ashley Montagu strongly denies such universalistic instinctual arguments, pointing out that social factors and childhood socialization are important in determining the nature and presence of warfare. Thus while human aggression may be a universal occurrence, warfare is not and would appear to have been a historical invention, associated with certain types of human societies.
The Italian psychoanalyst Franco Fornari, a follower of Melanie Klein, thought that war was the paranoid or projective “elaboration” of mourning. (Fornari 1975). Our nation and country play an unconscious maternal role in our feelings, as expressed in the term “motherland.” Fornari thought that war and violence develop out of our “love need”: our wish to preserve and defend the sacred object to which we are attached, namely our early mother and our fusion with her. For the adult, nations are the sacred objects that generate warfare. Fornari focused upon sacrifice as the essence of war: the astonishing willingness of human beings to die for their country, to give over their bodies to their nation. Fornari called war the “spectacular establishment of a general human situation whereby death assumes absolute value.” We are sure that the ideas for which we die must be true, because “death becomes a demonstrative process.” Also it is argued that leaders take the role of fathers and people taken the role of children. This could explain why people are either very rebellious against societies or very obedient. This means that the majority of people are not full grown adults. Doctor Bruce Charlton a psychiatrist says that more and more people are suffering from Neoteny, further more supporting this thesis.
Sociology has long been very concerned with the origins of war, and many thousands of theories have been advanced, many of them contradictory. Sociology has thus divided into a number of schools. One, the Primat der Innenpolitik (Primacy of Domestic Politics) school based on the works of Eckart Kehr and Hans-Ulrich Wehler, sees war as the product of domestic conditions, with only the target of aggression being determined by international realities. Thus World War I was not a product of international disputes, secret treaties, or the balance of power but a product of the economic, social, and political situation within each of the states involved.
This differs from the traditional Primat der Außenpolitik (Primacy of Foreign Politics) approach of Carl von Clausewitz and Leopold von Ranke that argues it is the decisions of statesmen and the geopolitical situation that leads to peace.
Demographic theories can be grouped into two classes, Malthusian theories and youth bulge theories.
Malthusian theories see expanding population and scarce resources as a source of violent conflict.
Pope Urban II in 1095, on the eve of the First Crusade, wrote, "For this land which you now inhabit, shut in on all sides by the sea and the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population; it scarcely furnishes food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage wars, and that many among you perish in civil strife. Let hatred, therefore, depart from among you; let your quarrels end. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre; wrest that land from a wicked race, and subject it to yourselves."
This is one of the earliest expressions of what has come to be called the Malthusian theory of war, in which wars are caused by expanding populations and limited resources. Thomas Malthus (1766–1834) wrote that populations always increase until they are limited by war, disease, or famine.
This theory is thought by Malthusians to account for the relative decrease in wars during the past fifty years, especially in the developed world, where advances in agriculture have made it possible to support a much larger population than was formerly the case, and where birth control has dramatically slowed the increase in population.
Youth bulge theory differs significantly from malthusian theories. Its adherents see a combination of large male youth cohorts (as graphically represented as a "youth bulge" in a population pyramid) with a lack of regular, peaceful employment opportunities as a risk pool for violence. While malthusian theories focus on a disparity between a growing population and available natural resources, youth bulge theory focuses on a disparity between non-inheriting, "excess" young males and available social positions within the existing social system of division of labour.
Contributors to the development of youth bulge theory include French sociologist Gaston Bouthoul,, U.S. sociologist Jack A. Goldstone,, U.S. political scientist Gary Fuller,, and German sociologist Gunnar Heinsohn. Samuel Huntington has modified his Clash of Civilizations theory by using youth bulge theory as its foundation:
I don't think Islam is any more violent than any other religions, and I suspect if you added it all up, more people have been slaughtered by Christians over the centuries than by Muslims. But the key factor is the demographic factor. Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.
During the 1960s, 70s and 80s there were high birth rates in the Muslim world, and this has given rise to a huge youth bulge. But the bulge will fade. Muslim birth rates are going down; in fact, they have dropped dramatically in some countries. Islam did spread by the sword originally, but I don't think there is anything inherently violent in Muslim theology."
Youth Bulge theories represent a relatively recent development but seem to have become more influential in guiding U.S. foreign policy and military strategy as both Goldstone and Fuller have acted as consultants to the U.S. Government. CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson referred to youth bulge theory in his 2002 report "The National Security Implications of Global Demographic Change".
According to Heinsohn, who has proposed youth bulge theory in its most generalized form, a youth bulge occurs when 30 to 40 percent of the males of a nation belong to the "fighting age" cohorts from 15 to 29 years of age. It will follow periods with total fertility rates as high as 4-8 children per woman with a 15-29 year delay. A total fertility rate of 2,1 children born by a woman during her lifetime represents a situation of in which the son will replace the father, the daughter the mother. Thus, a total fertility rate of 2,1 represents replacement level, while anything below represents a sub-replacement fertility rate leading to population decline. Total fertility rates above 2,1 will lead to population growth and to a youth bulge. A total fertility rate of 4-8 children per mother implies 2-4 sons per mother. Consequently, one father has to leave not 1, but 2 to 4 social positions (jobs) to give all his sons a perspective for life, which is usually hard to achieve. Since respectable positions cannot be increased at the same speed as food, textbooks and vaccines, many "angry young men" find themselves in a situation that tends to escalate their adolescent anger into violence: they are
- demographically superfluous,
- might be out of work or stuck in a menial job, and
- often have no access to a legal sex life before a career can earn them enough to provide for a family.
The combination of these stress factors according to Heinsohn usually heads for one of six different exits:
- Violent Crime
- Emigration ("non violent colonization")
- Rebellion or putsch
- Civil war and/or revolution
- Genocide (to take over the positions of the slaughtered)
- Conquest (violent colonization, frequently including genocide abroad).
Religions and ideologies are seen as secondary factors that are being used to legitimate violence, but will not lead to violence by themselves if no youth bulge is present. Consequently, youth bulge theorists see both past "Christianist" European colonialism and imperialism and today's "Islamist" civil unrest and terrorism as results of high birth rates producing youth bulges. While during the period of European colonialism, European countries had high birthrates and huge youth bulges that fueled colonialist expansion, today Afghanistan, which has a total fertility rate of 6 children per woman and an estimated unemployment rate of 40%, would represent a typical youth bulge country. The Gaza Strip can be seen as another example of youth-bulge-driven violence, especially if compared to Lebanon which is geographically close, yet remarkably more peaceful. Among prominent historical events that have been linked to the existence of youth bulges is the role played by the historically large youth cohorts in the rebellion and revolution waves of early modern Europe, including French Revolution of 1789, and the importance of economic depression hitting the largest German youth cohorts ever in explaining the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide has also been analyzed as following a massive youth bulge.
While the security implications of rapid population growth have been well known since the completion of the National Security Study Memorandum 200 in 1974, neither the U.S. nor the WHO have effectively implemented the recommended preventive measures to control population growth to avert the terror threat they are now facing. Prominent demographer Stephen D. Mumford attributes this to the influence of the Catholic Church.
Youth Bulge theory has been subjected to statistical analysis by the World Bank, Population Action International, and the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. Detailed demographic data for most countries is available at the international database of the United States Census Bureau.
Youth bulge theories have been criticized as leading to racial, gender and age discrimination.
Rationalist theories of war assume that both sides to a potential war are rational, which is to say that each side wants to get the best possible outcome for itself for the least possible loss of life and property to its own side. Given this assumption, if both countries knew in advance how the war would turn out, it would be better for both of them to just accept the post-war outcome without having to actually pay the costs of fighting the war. This is based on the notion, generally agreed to by almost all scholars of war since Carl von Clausewitz, that wars are reciprocal, that all wars require both a decision to attack and also a decision to resist attack. Rationalist theory offers three reasons why some countries cannot find a bargain and instead resort to war: issue indivisibility, information asymmetry with incentive to deceive, and the inability to make credible commitments.
Issue indivisibility occurs when the two parties cannot avoid war by bargaining because the thing over which they are fighting cannot be shared between them, only owned entirely by one side or the other. Religious issues, such as control over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, are more likely to be indivisible than economic issues.
A bigger branch of the theory, advanced by scholars of international relations such as Geoffrey Blainey, is that both sides decide to go to war and one side may have miscalculated.
Some go further and say that there is a problem of information asymmetry with incentives to misrepresent. The two countries may not agree on who would win a war between them, or whether victory would be overwhelming or merely eked out, because each side has military secrets about its own capabilities. They will not avoid the bargaining failure by sharing their secrets, since they cannot trust each other not to lie and exaggerate their strength to extract more concessions. For example, Sweden made efforts to deceive Nazi Germany that it would resist an attack fiercely, partly by playing on the myth of Aryan superiority and by making sure that Hermann Göring only saw elite troops in action, often dressed up as regular soldiers, when he came to visit.
The American decision to enter the Vietnam War was made with the full knowledge that the communist forces would resist them, but did not believe that the guerrillas had the capability to long oppose American forces.
Thirdly, bargaining may fail due to the states' inability to make credible commitments. In this scenario, the two countries might be able to come to a bargain that would avert war if they could stick to it, but the benefits of the bargain will make one side more powerful and lead it to demand even more in the future, so that the weaker side has an incentive to make a stand now.
Rationalist explanations of war can be critiqued on a number of grounds. The assumptions of cost-benefit calculations become dubious in the most extreme genocidal cases of World War II, where the only bargain offered in some cases was infinitely bad. Rationalist theories typically assume that the state acts as a unitary individual, doing what is best for the state as a whole; this is problematic when, for example, the country's leader is beholden to a very small number of people, as in a personalistic dictatorship. Rationalist theory also assumes that the actors are rational, able to accurately assess their likelihood of success or failure, but the proponents of the psychological theories above would disagree.
Another school of thought argues that war can be seen as an outgrowth of economic competition in a chaotic and competitive international system. In this view wars begin as a pursuit of new markets, of natural resources, and of wealth. Unquestionably a cause of some wars, from the empire building of Britain to the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in pursuit of oil, this theory has been applied to many other conflicts. Some to the left of the political spectrum argue such wars serve the interests of the wealthy but are fought by the poor. Sometimes this is referred to as a resource curse. Some to the right of the political spectrum may counter that poverty is relative and one poor in one country can be relatively wealthy in another. Such counter arguments become less valid as the increasing mobility of capital and information level the distributions of wealth worldwide, or when considering that it is relative, not absolute, wealth differences that may fuel wars. There are those on the extreme right of the political spectrum who provide support, fascists in particular, by asserting a natural right of the strong to whatever the weak cannot hold by force. Some centrist, capitalist, world leaders, including Presidents of the United States and US Generals, expressed support for an economic view of war.
"Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?" - Woodrow Wilson, September 11, 1919, St. Louis.
"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." - simultaneously highest ranking and most decorated United States Marine (including two Medals of Honor) Major General Smedley Butler (and a Republican Party primary candidate for the United States Senate) 1935.
Smedley Butler is not the most decorated Marine, that honor goes to Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller.
"For the corporation executives, the military metaphysic often coincides with their interest in a stable and planned flow of profit; it enables them to have their risk underwritten by public money; it enables them reasonably to expect that they can exploit for private profit now and later, the risky research developments paid for by public money. It is, in brief, a mask of the subsidized capitalism from which they extract profit and upon which their power is based."
C. Wright Mills, Causes of world war 3,1960
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." - Dwight Eisenhower, Farewell Address, Jan. 17, 1961.
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The Marxist theory of war argues that all war grows out of the class struggle. It sees wars as imperial ventures to enhance the power of the ruling class and divide the proletariat of the world by pitting them against each other for contrived ideals such as nationalism or religion. Wars are a natural outgrowth of the free market and class system, and will not disappear until a world revolution occurs.
Political science theories
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The statistical analysis of war was pioneered by Lewis Fry Richardson following World War I. More recent databases of wars and armed conflict have been assembled by the Correlates of War Project, Peter Brecke and the Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict Research.
There are several different international relations theory schools. Supporters of realism in international relations argue that the motivation of states is the quest for security, to ensure survival. One position, sometimes argued to contradict the realist view, is that there is much empirical evidence to support the claim that states that are democracies do not go to war with each other, an idea known as the democratic peace theory. Other factors included are difference in moral and religious beliefs, economical and trade disagreements, declaring independence, and others.
Another major theory relating to power in international relations and machtpolitik is the Power Transition theory, which distributes the world into a hierarchy and explains major wars as part of a cycle of hegemons being destabilized by a great power which does not support the hegemons' control.
Ayn Rand, developer of Objectivism advocates rational individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, adduced that if men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose. She maintained that so long as people hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged "good" can justify it -- there can be no peace within a nation and no peace among nations.
- Biological terrorism
- Biological warfare
- Chemical warfare
- Child soldiers
- Collective trauma
- Combat experience
- Combat stress reaction
- Effects of war
- Foreign policy making
- Government policy making
- Gulf war syndrome
- International relations
- Military psychology
- Nuclear war
- Prisoners of war
- War rape
- Clausewitz, Carl Von (1976), On War (Princeton University Press) p.87
- Clausewitz, Carl Von (1976) p.77
- Keegan, John, (1994) "A History Of Warfare", (Pimlico)
- Turnbull, Colin (1987), "The Forest People" (Touchstonbe Books)
- Lorenz, Konrad "Darian" (Oxford University Press)
- Montagu, Ashley (1976), "The Nature of Human Aggression" (Oxford University Press)
- Bouthoul, Gaston: "L`infanticide différé" (deferred infanticide), Paris 1970
- Goldstone, Jack A.: "Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World", Berkeley 1991; Goldstone, Jack A.: "Population and Security: How Demographic Change can Lead to Violent Conflict", 
- Fuller, Gary: "The Demographic Backdrop to Ethnic Conflict: A Geographic Overwiew", in: CIA (Ed.): "The Challenge of Ethnic Conflict to National and International Order in the 1990s", Washington 1995, 151-154
- Fuller, Gary (2004): "The Youth Crisis in Middle Eastern Society"
- Fuller, Gary (2003): "The Youth Factor: The New Demographics of the Middle East and the Implications for U.S. Policy"
- Gunnar Heinsohn (2003): "Söhne und Weltmacht: Terror im Aufstieg und Fall der Nationen" ("Sons and Imperial Power: Terror and the Rise and Fall of Nations"), Zurich 2003), available online as free download (in German) 
- ‘So, are civilizations at war?’, Interview with Samuel P. Huntington by Michael Steinberger, The Observer, Sunday October 21, 2001.
- Helgerson, John L. (2002): "The National Security Implications of Global Demographic Trends"
- Heinsohn, G.(2006): "Demography and War." 
- Heinsohn, G.(2005): "Population, Conquest and Terror in the 21st Century." 
- 2005 estimate, see CIA World Factbook, retrieved on December 23, 2007
- see demographic data provided by the United States Census Bureau , ; see also Heinsohn, G. (2008): "The Daunting Demographics of NATO´s Afghan Challenge," NRC Handelsblad, The Netherlands, Apr. 23, 2008 and Heinsohn, G. (2007): "Islamism and War: The Demographics of Rage"
- G. Heinsohn: "Why Gaza is Fertile Ground for Angry Young Men." Financial Times Online, June 14, 2007, retrieved on December 23, 2007; compare demographic data for Gaza Strip (,)and Lebanon (, ) provided by the U.S. Census Bureau; see also David Bau: "History is Demographics", retrieved on December 23, 2007
- Goldstone, Jack A.: "Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World", Berkeley 1991
- Moller, Herbert (1968): ‘Youth as a Force in the Modern World’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 10: 238–260; 240–244
- Diessenbacher, Hartmut (1994): Kriege der Zukunft. Die Bevölkerungsexplosion gefährdet den Frieden. Muenchen: Hanser 1998; see also (criticizing youth bulge theory) Marc Sommers (2006): "Fearing Africa´s Young Men: The Case of Rwanda." The World Bank: Social Development Papers - Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction, Paper No. 32, January 2006
- National Security Study Memorandum 200 (NSSM 200) - April 1974
- Stephen D. Mumford: The Life and Death of NSSM 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy
- Urdal, Henrik (2004): "The Devil in the Demographics: The Effect of Youth Bulges on Domestic Armed Conflict," ,
- Population Action International: "The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict after the Cold "
- Kröhnert, Steffen (2004): "Jugend und Kriegsgefahr: Welchen Einfluss haben demografische Veränderungen auf die Entstehung von Konflikten?" 
- United States Census Bureau: International Database 
- Hendrixson, Anne: "Angry Young Men, Veiled Young Women: Constructing a New Population Threat" 
- Fearon, James D. 1995. "Rationalist Explanations for War." International Organization 49, 3: 379-414. 
- Powell, Robert. 2002. "Bargaining Theory and International Conflict." Annual Review of Political Science 5: 1-30.
- The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Arthur S. Link, ed. (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990), vol. 63, pp. 45–46.
- 1935 issue of "the non-Marxist, socialist" magazine, Common Sense.
- Rand, Ayn (1966), chapter 2, The Roots of War, Ayn Rand - Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.