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date: 18 October 2018

Summary and Keywords

The scientific study of war is a pressing concern for international politics. Given the destructive nature of war, ordinary citizens and policy makers alike are eager to anticipate if not outright avoid outbreaks of violence. Understanding the causes of war can be a complex process. Scholars of international relations must first define war, and then establish a universe of actors or conflicts in which both war and peace are possible. Next, they must collect data on the incidence of war in the entire universe of cases over a particular period of time, a random sample of relevant cases, a number of representative cases, or a set of cases relevant to independent variables in the theories they are testing. Finally, scholars must use this data to construct quantitative and qualitative tests of hypotheses about why actors fight instead of resolving their differences in other ways and, in particular, why actors initiate wars by launching the first attack. Instead of taking the inductive approach of inventorying the causes of particular wars and then attempting to find general rules, it is necessary for scholars to approach the problem deductively, developing theories about the environment in which states operate, deriving hypotheses about the incidence of war and attack, and using quantitative and qualitative methods to test these hypotheses.

Keywords: war, causes of war, armed conflict, definitions of war, incidence of war, war as attack

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