How Wars End: An Analysis of Some Current Hypotheses

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

(1969) How Wars End: An Analysis of Some Current Hypotheses, Journal of Peace Research 6(4): 295–320.


​An analysis of the problem of war termination is presented in this article. A number of hypotheses put forward to date are examined, including both descriptive and analytical hypotheses, concerning the form of war endings, the duration of warfare, and the processes which play a part in bringing hostilities to an end. Suggestions are offered concerning classification of wars, classification of war endings, and relationships between the two. Questions of procedures used in peace treaties", which appears to be true of large-scale international wars in the twen​​tieth touched upon but not elaborated. Among the descriptive hypotheses considered is the widespread notion that "most wars end in peace treaties", which appears to be true of large-scale international wars in the twentieth century, but not true of colonial, civil and revolut​ionary struggles. A number of hypotheses concerning "termination points" in warfare are examined, including Klingberg's military indices (battle casualties and population losses, size of armies, etc.); Coser's "markers" (capture of a capital city or charismatic leader, reaching of a boundary, etc.); and Galtung's views on termination points. Analytical hypotheses, on how hostilities are brought to an end, are seen to be influenced by at least one of four underlying assumptions: (1) that wars end in "victory" or "defeat"; (2) that war termination is a matter of rational calculation by the adversaries; (3) that war endings are determined by laws of history or of mass behavior, to which both of the preceding are more or less irrelevant; (4) that war endings are determined by past events and present conditions, with little regard for perceptions of the future. In discussing hypotheses influenced by the first assumption, such as Calahan's assertion that "war is pressed by the victor, but peace is made by the vanquished," a classification of conceptions of "victory" and "winning" is offered. Under hypotheses of rational calculation, we examine particularly Porsholt's conflict formula and Wright's escalation formula, and their application and modification in the context of war termination. Deterministic hypotheses and the influence of past-mindedness (vs. perceptions of the future) are touched upon but not examined. In conclusion, an effort is made to construct a war-termination formula for heuristic purposes. A set of nine variables influencing war termination is proposed, and some relationships between the variables, and ways of describing them mathematically, are briefly discussed. The need for further historical research on war endings is emphasized​.​

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