Essay Writing Samples

The Causes of Interstate Conflict

This is a sample essay that focuses on the causes of interstate conflict and serves as an example of Ultius essay writing services. If there is one question that has plagued social scientists, it would have to be “why do states go to war?” This sample paper explores the topic in detail and discusses several important theories regarding the interstate conflict and provides an example of the advanced writer options available from Ultius.

Understanding interstate conflicts

War has been a plague on the human race for thousands of years. There are plenty of reasons that people go to war. We have seen explanations from religion to love throughout history. Theories on the causes of war are abundant, oscillating on a spectrum from culpability lying with just a few individuals to blame falling on the entire international system. While no one can definitively say what the true cause of interstate conflict is, we can examine multiple theories and weigh their merit against each other. This essay will review proposed theories for the cause of war, ranging from the democratic peace theory to power distribution.

Man’s lust for power and the use of war for control

A key mind seeking the cause of war is Kenneth Waltz, who in 1959 published “Man, the State and War,” described in this book three levels of that may be the source of conflict. The first level that he highlighted as a cause of war is the individual; the mentally ill, power-hungry, evil men cause the initial impetus for war between countries. Level two is the State, their societies, economies, etc. In this level, bad states cause wars between countries.

According to Waltz, however, each of these explanations paints an incomplete picture of the cause of war. In order to fully comprehend the causes of war, one must examine the international system. According to most international theories, the world is anarchic, meaning there is no overriding power to control the system. Aggressive leaders or expansionist states can play a factor in war, but the real explanation for war is the anarchic nature of the international system; there is no one to stop the war, so it happens (Roskin, p. 197).

Security and establishing national links

Samuel Huntington, a prominent international relations scholar, describes a different cause of war. He proposed one of the more controversial theories on the cause of international conflict in his book, The Clash of Civilizations. This work describes the future lines of conflict transitioning from just between states, and instead of expanding to cultural boundaries.

These nation states may combat civil war for resources or even as a means to maintain the security of its boundaries. He outlines seven or eight major civilizations in the modern world. These cultures include Western, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African (Huntington).

While Huntington predicts that nation states will still remain the key international actors, he says that the sources of conflict in this new world era will not be ideological or economic, as it may have been in the past, but will instead by fueled by cultural differences. Cultural differences are much more integral to human beings than any other qualifier.

One can change nearly anything about oneself, even citizenship is malleable, however, culture is one thing that does not change. Because of this, cultural differences have a powerful ability to generate interstate conflict, where the conflict is occurring between states and groups of states with different cultural affiliations. This difficulty to ameliorate differences between cultures is one possible cause of conflict between states.

Democratic peace theory achieved by war

Essentially similar to this argument is the democratic peace theory. Possibly one of the most powerful liberal arguments for the source of war and peace, this theorem suggests that democracies will not engage in war with each other. The idea behind this is that democracies share similar ideals and norms and that democratic societies have safeguards and institutions in place that restrain the option of war (Rosato).

Following this theory, and according to US President Woodrow Wilson, it is non-democratic states that are a major cause of war in the international system. (Rosato). Based on this, we have seen the US strategy and commitment to the spread of democracy. However, US experiences in both the bad decision to help Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the difficulty of converting countries to democracy.

Economics during war and the cost of peace

A related vein of discussion relates economic connections to peace. Members of the liberalist school of thought hypothesize that economic ties between countries decrease conflict between countries. This is basically the general theory of globalization; as the world becomes more interconnected and economic interdependence increases, the global conflict will decrease, because countries will not want to jeopardize their own economy by damaging that of an interdependent country. This discussion is also a popular subject for debates and essay assignments.

Liberal theory predicts that the more interconnected two countries are economical, the less likely they are to engage in interstate conflict. However, it is also possible that economic issues could actually be the source of conflict, as tensions over scarce resources or trade disputes could spark conflict.

Distribution of power and the fight to become the top military

One key indication of interstate conflict is reflected by power dynamic and power distribution. When one state is clearly the leader in military power, basically in a unipolar world, there is little chance of a large war breaking out. However, when there is a bipolar, or multipolar power balance, such as was exemplified by the Cold War, there is a large opportunity for war to break out between countries.

This situation creates an ever-mounting tension, both states want to be the most powerful, and neither can say who truly commands that title. The same situation can be reduced to a regional or even local scale. Small inequalities between nations can lead to increased tension and the possibility of interstate conflict.

A key example of this dynamic is the unification of Germany prior to WWI. Under Prussian leadership, a dynamic, unified Germany was created using a strict code of discipline during war. This dramatically shifted the distribution of power in the world, not only in terms of power but also the perception of the locus of power. The rapid rise of German power and the subsequent ripples it caused in the European distribution of power can be seen as one of the foremost reasons for the eventual outbreak of WWI (Cashman and Robinson).

The Prisoner of War dilemma

An interesting point to finish with on the causes of war is the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic game in international relations. Most know the scenario; two prisoners are held for a crime, in isolated chambers. No conversation is allowed between them. If neither blames the other for the crime, both receive a light sentence. If one blames and the other remains silent, the talker goes free, while the silent one serves a severe sentence.

But, if both talk, they both serve a harsh sentence. The Nash equilibrium describes the place where both seek the optimal situation (going free) and reach the suboptimal situation (both harsh). The optimum situation for both is to remain silent, and both take the light sentence. Many times this legal maneuver leads to a wrongful conviction. However, this only occurs through cooperation and trust. These qualities are generally only fostered through continued interaction. On this line of argument, one cause of war is a lack of interaction between countries.


If there is no guarantee of consequences for the action of the war, which occurs in an anarchic system, then there in no reason not to take what you want through acts of aggression. This is one of the key ideas behind the United Nations. By creating a venue where all countries are forced to have multiple interactions with all other countries, and (theoretically) be held accountable for their actions, the United Nations is supposed to eliminate the prisoner’s dilemma and decrease conflict to arrive at a more optimal level of cooperation.

This paper has discussed multiple theories and proposals on the causes of war. Kenneth Waltz proposed three layers of analysis for war: individuals, states, and the international system. Differences between cultures and civilizations are one possible cause. The conflict caused by non-democratic countries and the democratic peace theory is another possible factor. Economic factors can also contribute to peace or war. The prisoner’s dilemma can also be seen as a contributor. While none of these can be seen as the answer to why there is interstate conflict, by examining these factors, we can see a clearer picture why there is a conflict between countries, and how these factors interact to create interstate conflict.

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Works Cited

Cashman, Greg, and Leonard C. Robinson. An Introduction to the Causes of War: Patterns of Interstate Conflict from World War I to Iraq. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007. Print.

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Global. Foreign Affairs, n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2013.

Rosato, Sebastian. “The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory.” American Political Science Review 97.04 (2003): n. pag. Web.

Roskin, Michael G., and Nicholas O. Berry. The New World of International Relations. 9th. Upple Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., Print.

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