Logics of War

Logics of War: Explanations for Limited and Unlimited Conflicts

Alex Weisiger
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Logics of War
    Book Description:

    Most wars between countries end quickly and at relatively low cost. The few in which high-intensity fighting continues for years bring about a disproportionate amount of death and suffering. What separates these few unusually long and intense wars from the many conflicts that are far less destructive? In Logics of War, Alex Weisiger tests three explanations for a nation's decision to go to war and continue fighting regardless of the costs. He combines sharp statistical analysis of interstate wars over the past two centuries with nine narrative case studies. He examines both well-known conflicts like World War II and the Persian Gulf War, as well as unfamiliar ones such as the 1864-1870 Paraguayan War (or the War of the Triple Alliance), which proportionally caused more deaths than any other war in modern history.

    When leaders go to war expecting easy victory, events usually correct their misperceptions quickly and with fairly low casualties, thereby setting the stage for a negotiated agreement. A second explanation involves motives born of domestic politics; as war becomes more intense, however, leaders are increasingly constrained in their ability to continue the fighting. Particularly destructive wars instead arise from mistrust of an opponent's intentions. Countries that launch preventive wars to forestall expected decline tend to have particularly ambitious war aims that they hold to even when fighting goes poorly. Moreover, in some cases, their opponents interpret the preventive attack as evidence of a dispositional commitment to aggression, resulting in the rejection of any form of negotiation and a demand for unconditional surrender. Weisiger's treatment of a topic of central concern to scholars of major wars will also be read with great interest by military historians, political psychologists, and sociologists.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6817-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the summer of 1866, Prussia and Austria went to war to determine who would be dominant in Germany; one battle, on July 3 at Könniggrätz, was sufficient to resolve the issue, and the war ended less than two months after it started. In the summer of 1914, Austria again went to war, this time to establish dominance over the South Slavs; this conflict lasted more than four years, with deaths in the millions rather than the thousands. The contrast between these two conflicts—wars that appeared quite similar at the outset but differed dramatically in their eventual duration and...

  5. 1 Explanations for Limited and Unlimited Wars
    (pp. 11-53)

    War is, if not common, a persistent feature of international politics. Most wars between countries are, however, limited, lasting days, weeks, or months rather than years, and killing thousands rather than hundreds of thousands or millions. The few conflicts in which intense fighting persists for years, which I call unlimited wars, are thus responsible for a highly disproportionate amount of suffering. I argue that a good explanation for the most destructive conflicts should account both for why these wars did not end more quickly and for why other wars remained more limited. My argument is that unlimited wars are driven...

  6. 2 Research Strategy and Statistical Tests
    (pp. 54-85)

    In chapter 1 I made general arguments about the sources of limited and of unusually destructive wars and more specific predictions about the implications of different logics of war. This chapter examines those predictions quantitatively, focusing first on general predictions about the sources of unusually destructive wars and then turning to specific hypotheses drawn from the different mechanisms. Before doing so, however, I will introduce and justify the multiple-method research strategy used in this book, which is particularly appropriate for a project like this one, which combines multiple theoretical arguments—complicating pure case analysis—with hypotheses that at times cannot...

  7. 3 War to the Death in Paraguay
    (pp. 86-104)

    The war between Paraguay and its neighbors, which was fought from 1864 to 1870 and which ended with the utter destruction of Paraguay, is one of the great unknown wars in history, little studied despite being at a per capita level quite possibly the deadliest conflict in the past two centuries.¹ While disagreement exists about the exact numbers of dead, it is undeniable that Paraguayan human losses were huge, by some estimates as high as two-thirds of the prewar populavtion.² For outsiders, the sketch of the war makes the Paraguayan president—Francisco Solano López—appear frankly insane. As leader of...

  8. 4 World War II: German Expansion and Allied Response
    (pp. 105-140)

    In contrast to the Paraguayan War and to many other bloody wars from history, which historians have often described as unnecessary and tragic, World War II seems less puzzling: Adolf Hitler did it. While ancillary questions remain, such as why the German people were willing to rally to Hitler’s standard, the man himself has been seen as history’s ultimate outlier, and World War II as simply the extension of his unique personality. It is likely for this reason, for example, that international relations scholars have spent far more time examining World War I, which is frequently seen as unnecessary and...

  9. 5 Additional Commitment Problem Cases: The Crimean, Pacific, and Iran-Iraq Wars
    (pp. 141-158)

    In-depth case studies of the Paraguayan War and of World War II in Europe both have provided support for my central explanations for the particularly deadly wars that I am most interested in explaining. This chapter supplements those case studies with minicases of the Crimean War, World War II in the Pacific, and the Iran-Iraq War. Although these cases are presented in far less detail than the previous two, they provide an additional opportunity to see both the preventive war and the unconditional surrender mechanisms in action. In all three wars, one participant had significant preventive motivations for fighting that...

  10. 6 Short Wars of Optimism: Persian Gulf and Anglo-Iranian
    (pp. 159-177)

    Thus far, I have examined only long, high-intensity wars. The repeated appearance of commitment problem concerns among the central motivations to fight in these cases provides strong evidence in favor of the claim that concerns about an adversary’s inability to commit—whether because of adverse shifts in relative capabilities or because of a belief in the opponent’s dispositional commitment to war—produce unusually destructive wars. As I noted at the outset, however, a research strategy that involves examining only large wars is problematic. Most fundamentally, if similar commitment concerns are also present in more minor wars, then it is hard...

  11. 7 The Limits on Leaders: The Falklands War and the Franco-Turkish War
    (pp. 178-202)

    Chapter 6 analyzed one kind of limited war, conflicts driven by the informational mechanism. This chapter examines a different kind, namely wars driven by principal-agent problems—in other words, misbehaving leaders—in domestic politics. In these wars, leaders adopt policies that are designed to serve their own interests rather than those of their constituents. I argue that these wars, like informational conflicts, are internally limited: the war will continue only so long as the leader is able to avoid censure, most likely by limiting the information available to opponents. As it becomes apparent that the leader is overstating the probability...

  12. Conclusion: Recapitulations, Implications, and Prognostications
    (pp. 203-218)

    Most interstate wars are limited, in either duration or intensity. In a small number, however, intense fighting continues for years without the two sides resolving their differences. Indeed, in rare cases one side in a war categorically refuses to negotiate with its opponent, despite the extraordinary costs of a war to the death. The long, intense conflicts, which I have referred to as “unlimited wars,” may be rare, but they are responsible for most of the suffering caused by war in the past two centuries. Existing scholarly explanations for these wars have not been entirely satisfying, however. Political scientists and...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-260)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-280)
  15. Index
    (pp. 281-288)