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The Origins of Major War



The field of international relations has been challenged to explain the timing of the outbreak of wars and has instead focused on explaining causal conditions.  Even this has proven challenging.  Copeland points out that classical realism is unable account for wars in multipolar systems, while neorealism is unable to do the same for bipolar systems.  Further, hegemonic stability theory can’t explain why war would break out when one side had a clear advantage (this occurred in 5 of the 6 cases he examined).  He also argues that explaining war’s occurrence is not enough – a compelling theory should also explain why peaceful engagement can break down and lead to a cold war, or why a series of crises tend to occur prior to war.  Copeland offers a model that resolves some of the anomalies in realist explanations for war in what he calls a dynamic differentials theory.  In it, he seeks to account for the cause and timing of major wars.

Central Argument:


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About the author: Dale C. Copeland is a Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia. His research interests include the origins of economic interdependence between great powers, the realist-constructivist divide, in-group/out-group theory and the logic of reputation-building, and the interconnection between international political economy and security studies. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including MacArthur and Mellon Fellowships and a post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.

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