Can We predict War and Is It Inevitable?

May 18, 2009

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[First published September 22, 2005] This blog is inspired by Navin’s blog, “Can We Predict Wars? (here), described as “based on the premise that “we learn from history that we learn nothing from history. Logically, it must then be possible to predict war based on historical events.”

I quite agree that it is to history we must look for the ability to predict war and peace. But the recourse to history must go beyond the subjective reading of historians; it must also add to this knowledge a systematic treatment of cases and events, much as any scientist treats his empirical observations. That is, we have to well define what we mean by war and any variables we believe predict or account for war in a way that people who disagree with us can duplicate our data; our data should contain all or a well selected sample of wars and be made available to other researchers; and we should use systematic and replicable techniques of some sort to assess the relationships among the data.

If we do this, which quantitative researchers on war and peace have done, we are able to predict when and where wars will not occur, and explain why. We can also establish the probability of war occurring. In light of the common view of war today, these two statements are amazing. Consider the first statement that we can say with high confidence where wars will not occur. For example, I predict with a feeling of absolute certainty that there will be no war between France and Germany, France and Spain, and Germany and Poland in the next five years. Now, from history, with all the wars that these two peoples have fought, this is quite a prediction. Yes, you will say, but no one now expects such a war, which begs the question as to why.

Okay, how about there will be no war between Greece and Turkey (which some do expect), or Colombia and Ecuador, Paraguay and Bolivia, or Botswana and Namibia. But, there might be a war between Israel and Syria, Iraq and Syria, Ethiopia and Eritrea, or Tanzania and Uganda.

How do we know this? Because we know empirically from history and verified theory that democracies don’t make war on each other, and therefore we can predict that between any two democracies there will be no future war. However, war can well occur between two if one or both are not democracies. Moreover, the probability of war is far higher if both are nondemocracies.

In this case, can we predict when war will occur? It is most likely when there is a shift in the balance of interests, capabilities, and wills between two nondemocracies such that the balance no longer supports their status quo. There is a ton of nuances and things to be defined in this apparently simple statement. I’ve done this in my draft book, Principles of Freedom on my interactive book blog (here). See Part III, and specifically the conflict helix.

Thus, I argue the we define a sphere of peace in which we can predict with near certainty that war will never occur, and one in which we can also predict that war has its greatest likelihood — one the sphere of democracies, the other of nondemocracies. In the latter sphere war will occur when the status quo — structure of expectations — between nondemocracies collapses.

Is war inevitable? No! We can expand the sphere of democracies to encompass the globe and thereby make war history. There is no reason to suspect that the relationships among democracies will be any different than they are today if all countries are democratic. Democracies will remain intrinsically democracies, and thus the essential nature of democracies –political rights for all citizens, the democratic culture, multiple civic groups, a spontaneous society, and bonds and cross pressure — that ensure peace will remain.

Link of Day

“A Neural Net for Predicting War and Peace” By A. OLBRICH, & A. HERGOVICH

Abstract: Background: Social Identity Theory (Turner, 1986), Theory of Integrative Complexity (Tetlock, 1985) and the Theory of Groupthink (Janis & Mann, 1977) provide powerful tools for predicting international conflicts and wars. The aim of this study is to develop an application of artificial intelligence for predicting war and peace.

I’ve seen so much of this kind of psychological reductionism over the years when all one has to do is look at the type of government a country has –but, this is too simple. Yet, what personalities become rulers or leaders depends on the political system, and its culture, and history, and what they can do with the power they have also depends on these variables.

Links I Must Share

“China’s model for a censored Internet”:

Some worry China’s controls could be copied elsewhere.

“Iran ‘will trade nuclear secrets’:

Iran is ready to trade nuclear secrets with other Islamic states for peaceful purposes, the country’s leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said.

“EU drops hardline stance on Iran”:

The EU’s “big three” are said to have backed down from a demand that the UN nuclear watchdog should immediately report Iran to the Security Council.

“Rita: Watch This Blog”:

Defense Tech pal HYPERLINK “”Kris Alexander works for Texas’ homeland security department. Which makes his HYPERLINK “”blog (here) essential reading, now that a HYPERLINK “”category 5 killer hurricane is about to put the whomp on the Lone Stars.