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War in the Modern Great Power System

War in the Modern Great Power System: 1495--1975

Jack S. Levy
Copyright Date: 1983
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    War in the Modern Great Power System
    Book Description:

    The apparently accelerating arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union and the precarious political conditions existing in many parts of the world have given rise to new anxiety about the possibility of military confrontation between the superpowers. Despite the fateful nature of the risk, we have little knowledge, as Jack S. Levy has pointed out, "of the conditions, processes, and events which might combine to generate such a calamity." No empirically confirmed theory of the causes of war exists, and the hypotheses -- often contradictory -- that have been proposed remain untested.

    As a step toward the formulation of a theory of the causes of war that can be tested against historical experience, Levy has developed a unique data base that will serve as an invaluable resource for students of international conflict in coming years.War in the Modern Great Power Systemprovides a much-needed perspective on the major wars of the past. In this thorough and systematic study, Levy carefully defines the Great Power concept and identifies the Great Powers and their international wars since the late fifteenth century. The resulting compilation of war data is unique because of its five-century span and its focus on a well-defined set of Great Powers.

    Turning to a quantitative analysis of the characteristics, patterns, and trends in war, Levy demonstrates that although wars between the Great Powers have become increasingly serious in every respect but duration over the last five hundred years, their frequency has diminished. He rejects the popular view that the twentieth century has been the most warlike on record, and he demonstrates that it instead constitutes a return to the historical norm after the exceptionally peaceful nineteenth century. Applying his data to the question whether war is "contagious," he finds that the likelihood of war is indeed highest when another war is under way, but that this contagious effect disappears after the first war is over. Contrary to the popular "war-weariness" theory, he finds no evidence that war generates an aversion to subsequent war.

    This study, extending the scientific analysis of war back over five centuries of international history, constitutes a major contribution to our knowledge of international conflict.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6365-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1. Introduction: The Empirical Study of War
    (pp. 1-7)

    War has been a pervasive and persistent phenomenon throughout history. It is a major distinguishing characteristic of international politics and probably the most destructive form of human behavior. War is often perceived as a useful and sometimes necessary instrument of policy for the achievement of state political objectives, yet the avoidance of war without the sacrifice of other core values is a primary foreign policy objective of nearly all states. The buildup of national military capabilities is a constant preoccupation of statesmen but one that diverts significant resources from more constructive social pursuits, often contributes little to the security toward...

  5. 2. The Modern Great Power System
    (pp. 8-49)

    Before the Great Powers can be defined and identified it is necessary to specify the assumptions underlying the concept of a Great Power system. The Great Power framework and the realist paradigm from which it derives is only one of several possible approaches to the study of international relations. Other frameworks are based on a different set of assumptions and concepts, identify another set ofleading actors, and offer alternative explanations for war, change, and other phenomena in world politics.ยน If these competing paradigms are to be compared and their constrasting propositions subjected to a critical test, the assumptions upon which...

  6. 3. Definition and Identification of the Wars
    (pp. 50-76)

    In previous chapters I established the need for a systematic empirical study of war among the Great Powers over an extended temporal span and suggested that existing compilations of war data are not adequate for this purpose. The aim in this chapter is to define war and suggest operational criteria for the identification of all wars involving the Great Powers in the modem system. A detailed treatment of these criteria of inclusion and exclusion is necessary because in their absence no empirical study of war can be truly systematic. Problems involving the initiation and termination dates of war and the...

  7. 4. Measurement of the Wars
    (pp. 77-92)

    It is widely recognized that war is a multidimensional concept. Some wars are longer or more destructive than others, and some countries or historical eras are more warlike than others. If general statements like these are to be meaningful, they must be made more precise, which requires a refined conceptualization of war. The aim of this chapter is to define various dimensions of war, devise corresponding operational indicators and measurement procedures, and measure the values of these indicators for each of the 119 wars since 1495.

    War can be conceptualized on a multiplicity oflevels, dimensions, and units of analysis. The...

  8. 5. Quantitative Description of the Wars
    (pp. 93-111)

    The data in Table 4.1 can now be used in an attempt to answer a variety of questions regarding the nature of war among the Great Powers. (1) What are most wars like? How long do they last, how many Great Powers do they involve, and how destructive are they in loss of life? What are the central tendencies of the various characteristics of war, and how great are the variations? (2) How warlike has the Great Power system been? How frequently does war occur? What is typical yearly amount of war? (3) What is the relationship among the various...

  9. 6. Historical Trends in War
    (pp. 112-149)

    The twentieth century has been characterized as a particularly warlike era because of the destructiveness of the two world wars, the high level of tension and frequent crises of the Cold War, the persistent madness of the arms race between the two Superpowers, and the seemingly continuous conflicts among lesser states. A counterargument is that the world has not experienced a major war since 1945, that the impression that war is widespread derives more from the expanded role of the media in making war a more immediate and personal experience than from the actuality of war itself, and that war...

  10. 7. War Contagion
    (pp. 150-168)

    The last two chapters have provided a quantitative description of the nature of international war involving the Great Powers and an analysis of historical trends in war over the past five centuries. The theoretical question to be examined in this chapter is whether the occurrence of one war has any impact on subsequent war. Is international war involving the Great Powers characterized by diffusion over time and space, much like the epidemiological phenomenon of the spread of contagious disease? Does war beget war, inhibit war, or have no impact on subsequent war? This question has attracted considerable attention in the...

  11. 8. Conclusion: A Base for Further Investigation
    (pp. 169-171)

    This concludes the first part of a multiphase study of war in the modern Great Power system. The primary objectives have been to define and identify the Great Powers, to generate a data base for all international wars involving the Powers over the last five centuries, and to analyze the characteristics ofthe wars, their changes over time, and the impact of war on subsequent war. Given the nature of these tasks, their completion does not easily lead to an extensive summary or grand conclusion at this point. This study has made several important contributions to the literature on international conflict,...

  12. Appendix: Estimation of Missing Battle Death Data
    (pp. 172-175)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 176-199)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 200-210)
  15. Index
    (pp. 211-215)