Global Politics: Causes of War Research Paper Starter

Global Politics: Causes of War

(Research Starters)

How is war a part of human society? What are the sociological factors that trigger it? In what forms does it manifest itself, and how will it be seen in the post-industrial era? These questions are examined more closely in this paper. First, this essay outlines some of the types of wars that occur. Within each of these forms, the paper discusses how these specific types of war impact the social landscape. War has long been an integral part of the creation and alteration of societies and nations, and remains a major force in the modern world.

Keywords Civil War; Genocide; Hezbollah; International War; Paramilitary Force; Proxy War; Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); Triple-R

Sociology of Politics


In the study of war and strategic warfare, military analysts and scholars often cite the work of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. His seminal The Art of War, written in 500 BC, remains a critical text for strategists, leaders, and students alike. While Sun Tzu’s work includes suggestions on how to effectively fight a war and conduct battle, he also includes cautionary comments on when not to fight a war. "If ignorant of both your enemy and yourself," he writes, "you are certain to be in peril."

Throughout history, most states do not engage in warfare without careful consideration. Nevertheless, countless international and civil wars that have occurred throughout history. In the 20th century alone, and estimated 187 million people were killed in wars (Hobsawm, 2002). With few exceptions, the modern world has experienced few periods in which war was not being waged in multiple locations.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu does not advocate for war, but provides guidance about how to undertake it. War, he writes, "is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or ruin. The art of war is of vital importance to the State" (Sun Tzu, 2000).

How is war a part of human society? What are the sociological factors that can trigger it? In what forms does it manifest itself, and how will war be considered by world leaders in the post-industrial era? These questions are examined more closely in this paper. First, this essay outlines some of the types of wars that occur. Within each of these incarnations, the paper discusses how these specific types have affected the social landscape. As the reader will glean, war has long been an integral part of the creation and alteration of countless societies and nations and will likely continue to impact humanity for generations to come.

The Roots of War

Why do people initiate war when the implications are potentially devastating? After all, even the victors of a modern war may consider the spoils of victory to be, at least in the interim, pyrrhic at best.


To define war is a challenge in and of itself. War is conflict between two or more parties, but how it is manifest depends on a certain point of view. Some, like Karl von Clausewitz, would assert that it is a conflict between two or more political organizations, such as states or nations. Others would view it as a human condition, pitting not just political groups against one another but also humans. The roots of the English are nebulous: from the Frankish-German root, werra, the term means "confusion" and "discord" as well as strife, giving rise to Clausewitz's own term, "the fog of war" (Moseley, 2001).


One major cause of war is relatively simple: irreconcilable conflict between groups. When two or more stable, organized groups are forced into coexistence with each other, conflict can be avoided if each group is satisfied with their comparative situations. Conflict is given life, however, when superiority or inferiority complexes, aggression, or perceived inequities enter the mix. In many cases, these factors combine with one another to create irreconcilable differences. For example, religious or ethnic tensions, when combined with extreme poverty in the face of a wealthy incumbent regime, tend to accelerate conflict and lead to war (Hinde & Pulkinnen, 2000).

The Triple-R

To understand war, it is necessary to study its instances and ask about its roots. Does the conflict stem from sociological differences? Is combat a means to acquire greater resources or repel an oppressive government

In an article entitled “Understanding Causes of War and Peace,” Ohlson simplifies the reasons for war into concept he refers to as "the Triple-R" (Ohlson, 2008). Under this model, wars begin because nations have reasons to go to war, the resources to wage a war, and the resolve to do so.

  • Reasons are grievances against other states, such as previous threat or attacks, or goals, such as the acquisition of land or resources that cannot be achieved through peaceful measures.
  • Resources are the capabilities, such as weaponry, personnel, or tactical advantages, needed to pursue a war against a particular enemy.
  • Resolve arises from the determination that no peaceful measure can assuage the nation's grievances or achieve its goals.

As is made evident in the following examples, examples of the Triple-R model can be found throughout the history of warfare.


Civil War

Many types of conflicts can occur within a nation's borders, such as rebellions and riots, but few of these can be identified as civil wars. Some recent examples of such battles include police clashes with immigrant groups in France, the separatist movement in Tibet, and ethnic violence in Kenya. Divisive and often brutal as these incidents are, they do not yet fall under what is known as a full "civil war."

Elements of Civil War

The distinction between such types of conflict and an internationally-recognized civil war is based on five important elements:

  • The combatants must each hold control over a geographic area.
  • Each must have a recognized government structure.
  • Each must have some degree of foreign recognition.
  • Each must have an organized group of armed forces.
  • Each must engage in major military operations in combat zones or on battlefields ("Military glossary," 1996).

These distinctive qualities are important because, as an aggregate, they tend to have a deeper social impact within the nation and can also have international consequences. For instance, no revolutionary forces are seeking the dismantlement of the French or Kenyan governments; even though they do seek change, none of the protesting groups have formed militias or staged planned assaults on government forces. Similarly, the Dalai Lama may be the leader of the Tibetan people, but he has not made any effort to assert himself or his government as the leader of China, which oversees Tibet; no international organization has recognized the legitimacy of his regional leadership; and any major violence that has occurred has happened during protests, not in major combat situations. Each of these incidents may, if unattended or exacerbated, lead to civil war in the future, but, they are not causing widespread social and political disruption as civil wars do.


In the early 1800s, slaves who had been freed in the United States emigrated to what is now the West African country of Liberia. The ex-slaves and their descendants established a new republic of which they were firmly in control, keeping at bay the indigenous population. One hundred-fifty years later, a military coup led by Samuel Doe removed the previous regime but retained the same authoritarian style of government, violently suppressing rivals and galvanizing ethnic groups. In 1990, Doe was killed by one such group, which installed its own leader in his place. Neighboring African states contributed a peacekeeping force to the region, but they were unable to keep the warring factions apart nor help establish a coalition government. Countless refugees fled into other countries, and potential investors and business groups avoided doing business in Liberia. Extremely tentative accords were struck in the mid- to late-1990s, but the regimes that held power during that time continued to disenfranchise and repress rival groups, each of which waited in the wings for the opportunity to overthrow the incumbent government (Carter Center, 1997).

Several nations in Africa continue to struggle with civil war, as rival, tribally-based factions vie for power in a number of nations and refuse to engage one another in peaceful arenas. After more than 150 years of civil war, however, Liberia's competing factions, which are now heavily-armed militias with their own political leadership and zones of power, have still not reached reconciliation (McDonough, 2008).


Yugoslavia, which comprised the area now divided among Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia, was thrust together by the international community at the end of World War I. A collection of disparate provinces (which were in fact ethnic enclaves) were melded together despite their clear differences in ethnicity and allegiance. Although Albanians and Kosovars clearly aligned with one another and not with the Serb leadership in Belgrade, Serbia continued to dominate Yugoslavia and its myriad of ethnic groups. After Marshal Josip Broz Tito, to whom Albanian Kosovars were loyal,...

(The entire section is 4185 words.)