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Title: Causes of War (790:324:B6)

Instructor: Patrick Shea

Instructor’s E-mail:

Days, Times, Location: Session I (05/31/2011-07/08/2011); TTh 6:00-9:40pm; MU-204 CAC

Office Hours: TBD

Synopsis: This seminar focuses on war and its causes. We adopt an interdisciplinary perspective and try to draw on some of the best scholarship from a variety of disciplines, including philosophy, biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, and history. While we give some attention to tribal warfare, civil war, and to contemporary terrorism, we focus most of our attention on interstate wars. This is the form of war that has dominated the last five centuries, that has shaped the evolution of the modern world system, and that has generated the most well-developed theory (at least in political science) on the causes of war.

Among the various theoretical questions we will attempt to answer in our cases are the following: What is the relative importance of strategic, ideological, economic, and domestic political motivations in political leaders' decisions for war? Do states go to war primarily to increase their power and security, to promote certain principles of justice or forms of socio-political organization, to increase their wealth, or to consolidate the domestic positions of key elites? How important are conflicts of interests over tangible issues as opposed to concerns over power, reputation, and internal politics? To what extent are decisions for war made through careful cost-benefit calculations based on interests and on international and domestic constraints, and to what extent are they driven by flawed information processing and other departures from a rational decision-making calculus? Does the political structure of the regime, the economic structure of society, or political culture make any difference? Why do some wars escalate or expand, while others do not? Are the causes of great power wars any different than the causes of wars between weaker states?

In the course of our investigations we will ask whether the causes of war have changed over time, whether our theoretical and historical analyses of the wars of the past can help us understand the likely patterns of war in the future, and whether it is even possible to generalize about something as complex as the causes of war. Although we will not deal directly with the question of the future of war, our study of the causes of war will have important implications for that question.



Final Exam

Paper (option: 2 shorter essays or 1 longer paper)




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