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Chapter 17

Ending Conflict And War:
The Balance Of Powers*

By R.J. Rummel

It is easy to begin a war, but very difficult to stop one, since its beginning and end are not under the control of the same man. Anyone, even a coward, can commence a war, but it can be brought to an end only with the consent of the victors.
---- Sallust, Jugurtha LXXXVIII

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
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
16A. On Causes of 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I. Unpublished Research and Results on International Relations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

Once international conflict is initiated, what ends it? In general, Conflict Behavior ends when a new balance of powers has been determined. The balancing of powers that we see as Conflict Behavior (as defined in Table 4.4) will not end until a balance is achieved; then, conflict ends. A new balance is therefore a necessary and sufficient condition for termination.1

More specifically, what constitutes this new balance of powers? First, it is a mutual balance between the interests of the conflicting parties--between wants, desires; between goals and intentions. It may be over something as abstract as what God a people will believe in; or as concrete as whose flag will be raised over a specific, small island.

The conflict mutually communicates the relevant interests of each party and their strength of purpose. A new balance then means that both parties better perceive their mutual interests that were engaged in the conflict and are willing to live with whatever satisfaction of interests that results from the confrontation.

Except in the case of the total victory of one side, conflicts end in some sort of implicit or explicit compromise, where the costs of additional conflict no longer can be justified by the interests involved.

This does not imply that the parties to a conflict are computing machines, weighing explicit costs against articulated interests. Nothing so precise. Conflicts between states are between systems of decision makers and bureaucratic organizations; psychological fields; and societies and cultures as these enter into the perception and expectations of those people involved. Emotion, jingoism, nationalism, ideology, hostility, and all, may be involved to some degree. Nonetheless, there is some definition of the interests engaged, simply from the need of leaders and rulers, bureaucratic organizations and groups, to define some specific goals; and especially for more democratic states, the demands of internal groups that costs be justified. And costs are weighed, not necessarily as an investor calculating the return in interests, but more as a sense for proportionate costs given the aims.

But interests are only one element in a new balance. A second is the capabilities of each side to continue to pursue the conflict and achieve their interests. Of great importance is the function of the conflict in measuring these relative capabilities: what previously was ambiguous, uncertain, is now clearer as a result of this reality-testing. The new balance of powers is also a new, mutual realism about each party's capabilities to achieve the interests involved. Sometimes this realism extends to an appreciation of one or another side's ability and willingness to use naked force to bypass or overcome will of the other, as in the Soviet Union's invasion, takeover, and absorption of Lithuania in 1940.

And third, the new balance is also a fresh, mutual appreciation of each other's wills (the most elusive and ambiguous of psychological variables), or in the case of force, capabilities and interests. The resolution and determination of each party to pursue its interests and its capability to do so have now been made clear by the conflict.

Except in the rare case of the use of force in international conflict to completely overcome another's will, therefore, a new balance of powers is a psychological equilibrium in the minds of the participants. It usually is not a relative inventory of military hardware and personnel alone, with some ratio comprising the balance. Rather, a new balance of powers is a mutual willingness to accept the outcome as a result of the mutually perceived interests, capabilities and wills, and because of the expectation of the costs of further conflict.

There are no other necessary or sufficient causes of an end to conflict behavior. We can, however, discriminate several accelerating conditions for which evidence is available (see Appendix 17A). The following conditions facilitate, ease, and hasten the end of war:

  • domestic opposition,

  • consistent expectations of the outcome,

  • shift in military power, and

  • ideological devaluation.

Domestic opposition to the pursuit of a war by a leadership has a number of aspects to it. Public opinion may shift away from support. Interest groups may withdraw support and directly agitate against the war. The opposition party may make ending the war a party platform. And the leadership may be replaced by those with a more dovish outlook. The effect of such processes on the ending of war was seen in the U.S. involvement in the Korean and Vietnam wars, in France during the Algerian War of Independence, and in Great Britain during the Suez War (1957).

A second accelerator of peace is the development of mutually consistent expectations of the outcome of the war. When the reality of battle has brought both sides to expect the same winner and loser, or a draw neither wants to alter (as in the Korean War), then an end should be near. Wars begin in objective uncertainty over the balance of powers and in subjective certainty of success (Proposition 16.9). Battle proves one or both parties wrong about success and establishes the outline of a new balance of powers.

Related to this mutual perception is a third accelerator: the shift in military power. One party obviously begins to physically dominate and the other side has no prospect of overcoming this inequality either through its own means or by third party intervention.

Finally, the end of war is accelerated by its ideological devaluation. Wars sometimes are tests of strength between political formulas and religions--of "communism versus the free world," "democracy versus fascism," "Christianity versus Islam," "racism versus antiracism," "colonialism versus anticolonialism." Ideology gives a war significance beyond the immediate, objective status quo issue. It becomes a matter of universal truth and justice. To devalue this content of war is to make its resolution easier in terms of concrete status quo issues.

Such are those conditions helping to terminate war. Individually, or collectively, they will not always bring war to an end. They do not necessarily cause termination. But they do generally make it easier for such to occur.

Wars will end if and only if a new balance of powers is determined. This determination is helped by opposing domestic interests, mutual expectations of outcomes, shift in military power, and ideological devaluation.

War is a process of physical and psychological negotiation in a situation of extreme uncertainty. Although the initiation and escalation of wars are caused and conditioned by a number of factors (as discussed in Chapter 16), the ending of war is dependent on the process itself. War will end when the process that is the balancing of powers clarifies, unambiguously, a new balance of powers.

Thus, the accumulated number of causalities is not a good indicator of wars end. The duration of war is independent of its casualties (Proposition 17.6 in Appendix 17A).

Thus, the attributes of the parties--their wealth, power, politics culture--and their differences and similarities are unrelated to the duration of a war, the settlement procedures used, or the specific outcome.2

The end of war is situational, the outcome of balancing powers between adversaries. But as a process, it does have the common accelerators mentioned.

And its end does have a cause: the determination of a new balance of powers.


* Scanned from Chapter 17 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. For the definition of this type of cause, see Appendix 16A.

2. This lack of relationship is best displayed in Hannah's work (1972) and is supported by a variety of other studies. See Proposition 17.7 in Table 17A.3 of Appendix 17A.

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

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