Political Science | Evolution of War
Y490 | 15262 | Thompson

The nature of the course is fairly well expressed by the course
name.  We will survey the origins and subsequent changes in the
practice of war, with primary but not exclusive reference to
interstate war.  Each week we will take a bite of a very complex set
of processes and try and make sense of them.  Primary attention
should be directed at changes in military institutions, weaponry,
military culture, war, states and the political-economies in which
they operate.  One of the central arguments of the course is that
these processes co-evolve.  That is, a change in one or more tends
to lead to changes in the others.  A second central argument is that
changes tend to be introduced by a region’s leading military power  -
and because this is the case, the innovator is apt to continue to
be the leading military power until a new leading innovator
emerges.  This observation more or less assumes a third central
argument which is that regions tend to experience cycles of
consolidation and fragmentation.  The consolidations tend to be
coercively executed by the leading military power.  This
generalization implies that wars will be characterized by a three
phases: pre-imperial hegemony with an emphasis on resisting the
leading military power’s territorial expansion, imperial hegemony
with an emphasis on revolts, and post-imperial hegemony with a
return to interstate warfare.

In other words, war is a strategy for solving certain types of
problems.  It emerged slowly and, in turn, was transformed by a
variety of changes in its environment.  Our job is to figure out the
nature of these transformations and, in particular, to explore the
accuracy of pertinent generalizations.  Moreover, one of the central
contentions about state making is that contemporary states have been
shaped strongly by their war experiences.  States make wars and wars
make states is the simplifying aphorism.  Yet, however one evaluates
the relevance of this generalization to European and North American
states, there is also considerable evidence to suggest that the
generalization does not apply equally well to other regions (eg, the
Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America).  Why this might be
the case is another focus of this course.  Pursuing it, we will
examine the war making-state making literature based primarily on
the United States and Western Europe and contrast it with counter
arguments focusing on other regions.  Auxiliary questions involving
the ratio of interstate to intrastate warfare, weak states versus
strong states, and contemporary conflict patterns in both strong and
weak states (eg, terrorism and insurgencies) will also be examined.