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Your theory, if I understand it right, says the opposite: wars occur regardless of the international system, as random events distributed along some kind of function, so a world war may be the cause of a hegemon's demise instead of the hegemon's demise causing the world war.

This juxtaposition assumes that world wars can only start because competing strategic interests make escalation the rational move for every relevant party at every step on the path to war. But that's not true. The hegemon and the prospective challenger can misread each others' red lines and find themselves in a situation where enough of their moves are forced by the internal logic of the rules of their domestic policy game that they cannot back out.

See, e.g., the US oil embargo on Japan in 1941. A similar policy applied to China today would almost certainly result in a broad spectrum of responses, a great number of which could lead to armed confrontation. Not because China would win, but because it cannot not act in response to a fuel embargo.

And the more you meddle in the internal affairs of other countries - in other words, the more dominant your hegemony is - the greater the risk that you will back a semi-peripheral power into a corner that you did not realise was there.

So there are important diseconomies of scope of hegemony - which is why hegemons fall in the first place.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2012 at 03:59:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A classic case of imperial overreach is the demise of the Delian League, which did not happen because Athens wasn't a hegemon but because it abused its position as such.

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2012 at 04:01:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since war is an irrational activity (more often a lose-lose than win-lose, always a negative sum game), it happens because people make bad decisions. (Fighting a war you can't win is a bad decision, by my definition).

Information is the key. If deciders know whether they are in a position to win or not (i.e. are not blinded by their own righteousness), then nearly all wars can be avoided.

JakeS:

This juxtaposition assumes that world wars can only start because competing strategic interests make escalation the rational move for every relevant party at every step on the path to war. But that's not true. The hegemon and the prospective challenger can misread each others' red lines and find themselves in a situation where enough of their moves are forced by the internal logic of the rules of their domestic policy game that they cannot back out.

A classic example of this is Russia mobilising in 1914, unwittingly obliging the Germans to attack on the Western front.

I postulate that in the "information age", it ought to be possible to avoid wars due to inadequate information. The counter-examples, alas, are numerous (the ruling clique of the world's best-informed power apparently thought they could win in Afghanistan and in Iraq).

But theoretically...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 07:41:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is Homo economicus  a classic fallacy yet?

Human, either individually or in the aggregate, are not rational.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 08:04:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since war is an irrational activity (more often a lose-lose than win-lose, always a negative sum game), it happens because people make bad decisions. (Fighting a war you can't win is a bad decision, by my definition).

There's brinkmanship, there's overdoing things as the dominant party, there's the weaker party becoming desperate and deciding to spite the dominant party, there's scorched earth tactics, there's the Fabian strategy...

And of course there's Sun Tzu's "if you know yourself and you know your enemy you'll always win" but how can you be sure you know yourself and you know your enemy?

guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 08:48:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is the end of war. "if you know yourself and you know your enemy you'll always win" is true because of the corollary "you only go to war when you're sure to win" (or words to that effect). The information-age corollary is that your enemy knows himself and he knows you.

OK, so you really need information plus democracy to avoid war. If the interests of the ruling clique are clearly distinct from those of the mass of their citizens, e.g. when the ruling clique has nothing left to lose, this obviously favours warlike behaviour.

But even so : my theory says that the major powers will not go into open conflict with each other. This, in itself, should preclude a Grade 7 war.

Already : the event commonly considered to be the nearest we have been to nuclear war, viz. the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy and Kruschev were able to talk to each other on the phone; Kruschev realised he had crossed a red line and backed down.


It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:20:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Point:
Already : the event commonly considered to be the nearest we have been to nuclear war, viz. the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy and Kruschev were able to talk to each other on the phone; Kruschev realised he had crossed a red line and backed down.
Counterpoint: Able Archer 83
According to McFarlane, the president responded with "genuine anxiety" in disbelief that a regular NATO exercise could have led to an armed attack. To the ailing Politburo--led from the deathbed of the terminally ill Andropov, a man with no firsthand knowledge of the United States, and the creator of Operation RYAN--it seemed "that the United States was preparing to launch ... a sudden nuclear attack on the Soviet Union". In his memoirs, Reagan, without specifically mentioning Able Archer 83--he states earlier that he cannot mention classified information--wrote of a 1983 realization:
"Three years had taught me something surprising about the Russians: Many people at the top of the Soviet hierarchy were genuinely afraid of America and Americans. Perhaps this shouldn't have surprised me, but it did ... During my first years in Washington, I think many of us in the administration took it for granted that the Russians, like ourselves, considered it unthinkable that the United States would launch a first strike against them. But the more experience I had with Soviet leaders and other heads of state who knew them, the more I began to realize that many Soviet officials feared us not only as adversaries but as potential aggressors who might hurl nuclear weapons at them in a first strike ... Well, if that was the case, I was even more anxious to get a top Soviet leader in a room alone and try to convince him we had no designs on the Soviet Union and Russians had nothing to fear from us."


guaranteed to evoke a violent reaction from police is to challenge their right to "define the situation." --- David Graeber citing Marc Cooper
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:26:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but I submit that everyone (among the major players) now has far superior knowledge of their potential enemy. If Andropov had been on Facebook...

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:49:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How many Western leaders do you think are aware that the claim "Ahmedinejad threatened to destroy Israel" is a spin based on mis-translation? Modern propaganda reduces the ability of our modern forms of communication to help our leaders know their enemy.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 02:48:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since war is an irrational activity (more often a lose-lose than win-lose, always a negative sum game), it happens because people make bad decisions. (Fighting a war you can't win is a bad decision, by my definition).

This assumes that wars are fought in the national interest. In fact, wars are just as often fought for the benefit of one domestic polity which believes - rightly or wrongly - that it can offload the cost of the war on other domestic polities.

From the point of view of Halliburton and Bechtel, Iraq was anything but a defeat, even if it was a clear defeat for the US national interest.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 09:10:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not because China would win, but because it cannot not act in response to a fuel embargo.

This is a key point: if a large majority of people in a position of power in China see an explosion of unemployment as posing the greatest threat to their positions, the domestic political push to "do something about it" will be strong. Its easier to scapegoat underlings for "botching" an attempt to "do something" than it is to scapegoat underlings for the decision to simply try to wear the impact.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 01:39:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I agree, but that doesn't mean that you can take a pattern of wars from an historical period without a hegemonic system like today and expect that same pattern to follow in hegemonic era where the logic and errors leading to world wars may be very different.
by santiago on Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 03:42:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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