17.42 | Spring 2018 | Undergraduate

Causes and Prevention of War


Final Exam Study Questions

You will be asked to answer two from a choice of three questions drawn for the list below, plus some shorter identifications. 

  1. If you were designing a world of states best able to co-exist without war, what would your states be like? You may consider the design of states’ political systems, economic systems, educational institutions, civil-military relations, national cultures/ideas/values, foreign and defense policies, or any other national attributes you believe are relevant.

Confine your remarks to a few (2-5) attributes. Explain why you think they matter most.

Also, please indicate how much you think war would diminish if all the world’s states followed your design.

Use historical evidence drawn from course readings and lectures.

  1. In Perception and Misperception in International Politics (chapter 3) Robert Jervis notes that sometimes unyielding policies cause war by provoking a conflict-spiral, while sometimes concessions cause war by encouraging aggressors to make more demands in the false expectation that the other will grant these demands, and to disbelieve the other’s warnings that it will fight rather than concede further.
  • Which problem occurs more often in the historical cases covered in this course?
  • Under what conditions does each model apply?
  • What policy prescriptions follow from your answer? How could past policy makers have avoided the spirals or deterrence failures that you discuss?
  1. What was the single most potent and preventable cause of war that operated in the cases covered in this class? Explain why your war-cause is both potent and preventable. Also identify one or two other war-causes that you believe are less potent and/or less preventable, and explain why they are less potent and/or preventable than the prime cause you identify.

  2. What foreign policy should the United States adopt to keep itself and the world at peace? Some people argue an activist U.S. foreign policy only leads to U.S. entanglement in wars like World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. In this view few wars are prevented, while more are caused or intensified, by U.S. activism. Others argue that an isolationist U.S. policy permits wars among other states; then the U.S. is eventually drawn in, as in 1917, 1941, and 1950, to settle wars that it could have prevented by early action. They suggest a paradox: “To preserve peace, we must threaten war.” 

Still others argue that both an active or isolationist policy can cause war or peace, depending on specific policies and circumstances.

Discuss these views with reference to relevant history.This history could include past American policies or the policies of other powers covered in this course.

  1. Many later observers have seen their own times reflected in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and have perceived close parallels between the Peloponnesian War and conflicts they observed first hand. Others argue that the Peloponnesian War was different in important ways from most wars, and should not be used to infer lessons about managing foreign policy or war today. Who is right? Of the wars studied in this course, which were most similar to the Peloponnesian War in their causes and conduct? Which were most different? Of those that were similar, what were the most important common features between the Peloponnesian War and the similar wars you identify? What lessons can be drawn from Thucydides’ account for the conduct of policy today?

  2. Could World War I have been prevented, localized or limited? If so, when and how? By whom? (“Whom” = any individual, group, or institution, including governments, institutions or individuals within governments, and private institutions or individuals.)

  3. Discuss the past and future impact of actual or perceived technology change on the danger of war.

When in the past has actual or perceived technological change markedly raised or lowered the risk of war? Discuss historical instances covered in this class where technology change had a large impact, or situations where perceived technology change had a large impact.

Looking ahead to the future, what kind of technological changes could make the world more peaceful? Less peaceful?

Use theories and evidence drawn from this class to support your arguments.

  1. Are most wars intentional or inadvertent? Some scholars dismiss the importance of inadvertent war in history, while others argue that many wars are inadvertent. Please state your own view on the matter, drawing for evidence on cases from this class.

Finally, state any policy prescriptions that follow from your analysis.

For purposes of your answer, assume that a war was “inadvertent” if the decisions or policies that produced the war were adopted by governments or societies that did not expect or desire that these policies would produce war.

  1. Consider four possible future international nuclear orders:
  • Nuclear weapons are banned by international agreement. No states possess any nuclear weapons.
  • A few states–perhaps 6–10, including the United States–possess nuclear weapons. Of these 6–10 nuclear states, most (the U.S. included) have secure second-strike countervalue capabilities against all of the others.
  • A few states–perhaps 6–10, including the United States–possess nuclear weapons. Of these 6–10 nuclear states, most have second-strike countervalue capabilities against most of the others, but none have a second-strike countervalue capability against the United States. Instead the U.S. has a first-strike counterforce capability against all of them.
  • Nuclear weapons spread to many more states than possess them today, until scores of states have nuclear arsenals. Many of these nuclear states, including the U.S., have secure second-strike countervalue capabilities against all other nuclear states.   

Which of these nuclear orders would be best for the U.S.? Which would be best for the world? Which would be worst? Is your preferred nuclear order feasible to achieve? Could it be sustained? In your answer please comment on the effects of nuclear weapons and different nuclear postures on international politics.

  1. What factors do you think have been most important in preserving peace between the major powers since 1945? On the basis of your remarks, do you think that peace is durable, or should we expect another war between major powers someday soon?

Explain your reasoning, referring to pertinent theories and historical evidence.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2018
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Lecture Notes