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Human Motives, Reasons for War and the Politics of East Asian Identity: A Discussion of Lebow’s Why Nations Fight

Author: Chen ZhengSilver Editor Source: Contemporary Asia Pacific StudiesTime :2014-09-26 15:16:00

  Abstract: What causes war and conflict are the classical questions of the discipline of international relations.Distinct from other scholarly work on the topic, Richard Ned Lebow’s book Why Nations Fight considers the deeper motivations driving states to war.He identifies four generic motives that lead states to war: fear, interest, standing and revenge, and he constructs a database of three centuries of war to test theories underlying these motivations.He finds that the vast majority of wars are rooted in quests for standing or revenge, and are not driven by security or material interests.He further predicts that because the main factors inducing war have lost their original meaning, wars between states will be less and less frequent in the future.This article identifies several concerns related to omissions and limitations in Lebow’s theory and research design.For example, it points out that the logical relationship asserted between motivations of standing and acts of war is not strictly defined, including its assumption that individual psychological motivations and trends in group behavior will dovetail.At the same time, his case selection and process of data compilation involve a certain level of bias.The article also discusses how Lebow’s typology of motivations rooted in emotions and standing might be extended to offer insights into the contemporary regional order in East Asia.