Why Rationalist Perspectives Explain the Causes of War

Rationalist explanations for war (Fearon’s explanations)

They attempt to explain all behavior in terms of the preferences of actors, their beliefs about others and the world, the structure of the system that imposes constraints on their actions and those of the adversary, and the information that is available. Only three sets of conditions under which two rational unitary actors could end up at war with each other: private information and incentives to misrepresent that information, commitment problems, and indivisible issues. Fearon demonstrated that if none of these conditions is present, there must be a “bargaining space” of outcomes that are mutually preferred to war. Leads to game theory/bargaining theories (L&T).

Fearon’s explanations for war focus on rationalist perspectives that suggest that war occurs due to the inability of conflicting parties to reach a peaceful agreement. He suggests that, in these situations, war becomes a rational decision, as each party hopes to gain an advantage in the conflict and avoid the costs of continued negotiation.

One key explanation for war from a rationalist perspective is that states may choose to go to war when they perceive that there is no other option, and that their core interests are threatened by the other party. In these cases, war may be seen as a rational choice that will help protect their interests and ensure their security. For example, if a state perceives that a neighboring state is building up its military capabilities and is becoming increasingly aggressive, it may feel that war is the only option to prevent its neighbor from attacking.

Another rationalist explanation for war is that parties may engage in conflict because they believe that their relative power advantage is slipping, or that their opponents are becoming more powerful. In these cases, war may be seen as a way to prevent further losses of power and influence. For example, if two nations have been rivals for many years and one has recently made significant military advancements, the weaker nation may feel that war is the only way to prevent the stronger nation from becoming too powerful.

A third rationalist explanation for war is that it may result from incomplete information or a lack of trust between parties. In some cases, states may misinterpret the actions of other states and perceive them as threatening, leading them to engage in war. Similarly, a lack of trust between parties can make it difficult to reach a peaceful agreement, leading to war as a more attractive option.

Overall, Fearon’s rationalist explanations for war suggest that, in many cases, parties engage in conflict because they perceive it to be a rational decision that will help them achieve their goals and protect their interests.

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