International Anarchy is an Inexact Indicator in Accessing Causes of War

Over the past few weeks I have taken to the study of causes of war. To this end I am currently reviewing a book by Levy and Thompson (2010) titled Causes of War. Therein they set out the various explanations authored by other theorists on the causes of war. They use the levels of analysis fronted by Kenneth Waltz to group sources of indicators that could explain the variations in the causes of war. Among the levels is the international system which has among others, international anarchy as a variable that could be used to explain the presence of war.

The two authors opine that realist theories dominate the explanations of occurrence or otherwise of war in this level of analysis. One of the assumptions offered by the realist theories is that international anarchy makes war more likely to happen. International anarchy has been defined as the lack of a legitimate international government to settle disputes and enforce law and order. This simply means that there is no world government to police global affairs thus making war more probable.

This assertion appears spurious at best. Before dismissing my humble opinion on an already readily accepted ‘fact’ of international affairs, please read on first. International anarchy does not vary much for any person to conclude that it may play a vital role in the cause of war. In fact, it has not varied at all since the creation of the present international system. This fact leads me to conclude that international anarchy, which is not a variable, cannot be used to explain the presence or absence of war, which is a variable. 

When a phenomenon varies, then the causal variables should vary to explain the variation. If international anarchy, as defined by realist of which is internationally acceptable, is constant it cannot be used to explain war which varied from time to time. For instance it would be foolhardy to state that international anarchy makes war possible whereas it existed in cases of relative peace. In other words international anarchy cannot be used to explain situations where war is present and absent if anarchy itself does not vary in both times of war and peace. 

Therefore international anarchy cannot be as an indicator in assessing the causes of war. How else could we explain presence of world wars in the 20th century and its absence in the 21st century if international anarchy still exists in both periods? Yes, international anarchy does not cause wars but the explanation that it makes wars more probable also cannot be empirically verified. It is thus important to be cautious on how much we rely on international anarchy to create theories or explanations of causes of war. Just a thought!