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Volume 4

Expanded Contents | Figures | Tables


1. Perspective And Summary
2. International Relations
3. The International Actors
4. International Behavior Space-Time
5. International Expectations And Dispositions
6. International Actor And Situation
7. International Sociocultural Space-Time
8. Interests, Capabilities, And Wills
9. The Social Field Of International Relations
10. Latent International Conflict
11. International Conflict: Trigger, Will, And Preparations
12. The Balancing Of Power
13. Comparative Dynamics Of International Conflict
15. Empirical Dynamics Of International Conflict
16. Causes And Conditions Of International Conflict And War
17. Ending Conflict And War: The Balance Of Powers
18. The International Conflict Helix
19. Theoretical And Empirical Conclusions On Conflict And War 20. Principles Of Peace And Conflict


15A. Phasing Propositions and Their Evidence on International Conflict
16B. Propositions and Their Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
16C. Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of International Conflict Behavior
17A. Propositions and Evidence on the Causes and Conditions of Ending International Conflict Behavior
18A. Descriptive Propositions on International Conflict
19A. Overall Evidence on 54 Social Field Propositions on International Conflict
19B. Primary Propositions on Social Conflict
I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations
II. Event Data: Bases of Empirical Conflict Analysis
III. Characteristics of Published Quantitative International Relations Studies

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Appendix 16A

On Causes
International Conflict*

By R.J. Rummel

There are a variety of schemes for assessing the causes of conflict: remote versus immediate, necessary versus sufficient, significant versus trivial, structural versus situational. Moreover, there is the question as to what one means by cause: an event (an occurrence) that can be dated, a condition, a mathematical relationship? There is finally the question of whether causes actually exist in social behavior, are statistical regularities, or are projections of our minds on that behavior.

My concern here is not to philosophically analyze the meaning of cause, but to cut through the various perspectives and interpretations and simply ask: "given my social field interpretation of conflict and the conditions and forces presumably operating, what do I mean by, for example, x causes or is a condition of war?"1

A number of aspects of the international field bear on an answer to this.

Moreover, in defining causes and conditions I am concerned with their systematic, empirical evidence. With this in mind, I will demand of a "cause" or "condition" that it:

Now, denote some cause as x, and the conflict behavior it affects as y. Then, logically, a cause in my terms can have one of three meanings. First, the cause can be sufficient for y: if x then y. Whenever x occurs, y follows. But y can also be an effect of other causes, so that if x is sufficient for y, we cannot say that not x implies not y, or that y implies x. If heavy drinking is a sufficient cause of automobile accidents, this does not mean that sober driving implies no accidents. For accidents also are caused by excessive speed, falling asleep, mechanical breakdowns.

Second, the cause x can be necessary for y: if y then x. If y occurred, then x must have also occurred. Or, y would not occur without x being present. Thus, gravity is a necessary cause for one to fall on an icy sidewalk. But gravity is not sufficient. Even though gravity is present you may not slip and fall.

Third, a cause may be necessary and sufficient: y if and only if x. That is, y will occur only when x occurs. For example, the launching of American ICBMs involves a complex set of simultaneous procedures to be carried out by more than one person. These procedures have been designed so that together they are necessary and sufficient for a launching: a launching would not occur without following these procedures, either by accident or will.

There is a special type of sufficient cause that I will call a trigger. This is a class of causes x that operates within a system of conditions highly favorable for producing y, such that any member of the class x could have produced y and would not have been a cause without these conditions. The trigger is often called the proximate or immediate cause. Any kind of spark (class x) may trigger an explosion once sufficient explosive gas has accumulated; any additional car (class x) on a bridge may trigger its collapse, given it is already overloaded. Any overt attack (class x) on a regime, such as an assassination, may trigger a revolution or war, if the political conditions are ripe.

Specific triggers are therefore random causes. They are not of intrinsic interest except as a class of events. What is of interest are the causes and conditions that must cooccur for triggers to be successful and the specific, sufficient causes that make certain that some random trigger will spring y.

Then there are conditions z of y. Conditions, in my sense, retard or enhance the operations of a cause. Setting a match to kindling is a sufficient cause of fire. But, if the (condition of the) wood is wet, the sufficient cause will be hampered, possibly defeated. If the (condition of the) wood is desert dry, the wood could burst into vigorous flame at the touch of a match. World opinion similarly could inhibit or aggravate violence depending on whether it was strongly opposed or favorable.

In theoretically explaining conflict behavior, then, the causal model I will use treats causes and conditions as operating within a field and through a medium of meanings, values, and norms. The model is illustrated by Figure 16A.1.

With this understanding of causes and conditions of Conflict Behavior in mind, then, Table 16A.1 organizes the theoretical causes and conditions of Conflict Behavior. The proposition relating them to conflict and discussion of their meanings are given in Appendix 16B; the evidence is given in Appendix 16C.

In reading Table 16A.1 keep in mind that Conflict Behavior includes violence or war. Therefore, what is a necessary cause for Conflict Behavior would also be so for war. What causes or conditions are specified in addition for violence or war are therefore those that theoretically discriminate them from other Conflict Behavior. Thus, given that the necessary causes have occurred, then nonviolent conflict escalates to military action and war if neither party is libertarian, the status quo has been disrupted, and each is confident of success. This escalation will be made, more or less, intense depending on the presence of the tabulated aggravating and inhibiting conditions. Especially, escalation to war will be probable if the parties have power parity and it is a widescale class conflict.


* Scanned from Appendix 16A in R.J. Rummel, War, Power, Peace, 1979. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. The work that comes closest to my view on causation is Bunge (1963). He argues that causal determination is just one of many forms of determination; that cause-effect cannot be considered purely a logical or statistical relationship; that cause-effect does imply a nonlogical bond or link of some kind between the cause and effect.

2. I do not intend to define cause logically, for the laws of logic imply causal relationship that few would be willing to accept (for example, see Bunge, 1963: 242-243). I am using logic only to clarify the types of theoretical causal connections of concern. The logic is therefore an organizing principle and not a rigid formalization.

For citations see the Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace REFERENCES

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