PS3240 Week 2 #4: Exploding the Powder Keg Myth (Preemptive wars almost never happen) Dan Reiter
• Existing argument: Preemption is most likely path to armed conflict (Int’l system as primed powder keg, waiting for single spark to explode into war) BUT these claims have not been matched by extensive empirical scholarship, has not been proven. Reiter’s Argument:
• Empirical finding: preemptive wars almost never happen; in cases where they did happen, it was due to other motivations for war + conditions hypothesized to lead to preemptive war e.g. belief in military advantage of acting first à factors leading to preemptive wars are insubstantial causal forces Definition of preemptive war, its place in academic theories on causes of war & role in policy debates
• Definition: Preemption is a scenario for war predicted by some theories; war that breaks out when attacker feels that itself will be target of a military attack in the short term and motivated by fear. (Perception of short term threat to national security) • Preemptive war is a central prediction of the spiral model of war and an important component of offense-defense theory, two leading theories of the causes of war. 1. Spiral model: Explains the dynamics of international crises – preemptive war is the predicted outcome of a spiral in a crisis, after tensions spiral to the point where one believes the other is about to attack and hence strikes first pre-emptively. Hyphothesis: preemptive wars become more likely when states believe that other states are hostile and pose imminent military threats 2. Offense-defense balance: Argues that wars are more likely when the offense is perceived to have relative advantage on the battlefield. Central argument scholars make when discussing how perceived offense dominance can cause crises to escalate to war – useful explanation for why states with essentially defensive foreign policy aims can stumble into war • Preemption as an important...
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