Theories of War and Peace: An International Security Reader

This book deals with the theoretical issues around the concepts of war and peace. The first section of the book, entitled Realist theories of war and peace begins with a chapter by Mearsheimer that focuses on post-Cold War Europe. The section deals mainly with the question whether Europe would be able to maintain its peace and stability in a post-Cold War era. The analysis is done within the context of the bipolar world (Cold War) versus the multipolar world (post-Cold War). Drawing from the neo-realist theory of international relations, the first article presents four different scenarios for a post-Cold War Europe. The author concludes that Europe would face incredible destabilisation due to multipolarity as there would be no clear (military) power to ‘moderate’ the activities of other states. It is the absence of this great power that leads to anarchy with states pursuing their own national interests. The author seems to suggest that this could only be avoided if the United States and Russia continue to play the role of superpowers in Europe in order to maintain stability.

Van Evera’s article attempts to strike the balance between offensive and defensive measures among states with the aim of offering greater comprehension of the notion of power and national interests. According to Van Evera, the distribution of power should not be the only yardstick by which to measure the probable cause of war. Instead, the offence-defence balance which involves factors such as the nature of diplomacy and domestic political factors, among others, need to be considered.

The last article in the section authored by Glaser reveals the major dilemma that most realists face, that is, how to offer a proper understanding of state behaviour in an evolving international system. The author argues that, contrary to popular opinion about realism, the theory is able to explain international peace and state co-operation.

The second section deals with a counter-theory to realism – idealism – and how it is connected to democracy, peace and state co-operation. The section offers an in-depth analysis of the theory that democratic states do not go to war with each other. The first article defends the proposition and demonstrates that, historically, democratic states, because of their shared belief in liberalism, have avoided war. This view, however, is immediately challenged by Layne in the second article, who argues that in cases where democratic states avoided resorting to war, the decision was based on national interests rather than the notion of promoting democracy. He does this by referring to different examples, among them, World War I, a war fought by states that were perceived to be democratic (p. 183).

Part three of the book deals with ethnicity, nationalism and war and how the latter two factors, in combination or separately, lead to war. The entire analysis of nationalism and ethnicity is mainly focused on the international political environment in post-Cold War Eastern Europe and how the West, especially the United States, could respond to such issues. In this section, the authors seem to agree that one of the key solutions to such wars would be international intervention in states in order to protect minorities. The recommendations made by the authors, however, appear to be blueprints, which have been tried and proved inadequate elsewhere.

The fourth section of the book tackles the issue of international institutions and their role or relevance within the international system. A thought-provoking article is that of Mearsheimer who defends the realist arguments that international institutions, empirically speaking, do not possess the capacity to deal with issues of war, or to safeguard international peace. The rest of the articles are a direct response to and a critique of Mearsheimer’s views. Of particular note is the article by Keohane and Martin (pp. 391-393) that attempts to prove that there is historical and empirical evidence to show that international institutions do, in fact, matter and that they have played a pivotal role when it comes to issues of war and peace.

Indeed, nation-states have invested much time and money in international institutions that continue to exist as platforms to deal with international issues that cannot be tackled by individual states. This view is clearly demonstrated by Keohane and Martin in their explanation of the continued existence of institutions like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU). The section successfully demonstrates that the theory of collective security as it relates to the notion of lasting peace would always remain a bone of contention in international relations discourse.

The fifth and last section of the book deals with the issues of war and peace in an evolving international system. The main argument offered by the first article, which is a review essay, is that war among the (industrialised) countries of Europe is no longer possible. According to Kaysen, this is the case because the leaders in these countries have realised that there is more at stake in terms of economic and political factors, in comparison with past centuries. Put differently, Kaysen’s view is that in the latter part of the 20th century, it is no longer profitable for states to go to war, at least those of (industrialised) Europe. However, the essay does not adequately address the question why states go to war and why European states do not at this particular point in history.

An important observation that could be made, is that the means of destruction have become so advanced that a war among European states could mean the end of the world. The existence of nuclear weapons and other technologically advanced means of destruction make a total war among theses states incomprehensible.

The second article by Copeland is also thought-provoking as it attempts to offer insight into the notion that economic interdependence reduces or increases the likelihood of war among states. His conclusion is that economic interdependence result in wars among states when they want to maintain their dominance over resources. Using World War I as an example, Copeland argues that Germany went to war with other states in Europe in order to gain greater access to international markets (pp. 486-488). The last article looks at environmental issues and their possible effects on the international system, that is, whether scarcity of natural resources could lead to conflicts or not.

This book goes a long way to show that there is a rich tradition within international relations methodology and discourse. This rich tradition is composed of various schools of thought that ensures that the future of international relations as a discipline remains intact. The above observation is informed by the richness that this book reflects about various international relations theories and how they relate and/or differ from each other, thus showing the depth of the debates within this discipline. At this level, it is an important book for international relations scholars interested in understanding present-day realities through the lens of international relations theory. However, the book would have been more useful had it concentrated on issues affecting Europe, as well as the rest of the world, because the changes taking place currently affect all states.

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