The Diversionary War Theory

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War is almost universally considered a destructive and evil act. This begs the question why such a seemingly irrational event has continuously occurred throughout history, even when actors appear to be rational states focused on maximizing their own security. When historians attempt to address this question, they often focus on three levels of analysis: individual, state, and systemic. Each level of analysis has merit when explaining prominent wars. However, the state level, which analyzes domestic systems of specific states, appears to be the most effective level of analysis when looking at many major wars in recent history. In particular, the combination of the democratic peace theory and the diversionary war theory prove to be the most consistent…show more content…
In Domestic Politics and War, Jack Levy explains diversionary war by writing: “Political elites can use a foreign war to divert popular attention from internal, social, and political problems” (Levy 94). A somewhat cynical view, this theory believes war is primarily instigated to distract civilians from domestic problems. The civilians should theoretically rally behind the country, ignoring the prior internal conflict that jeopardizes the leaders popularity. A successful war should ensure the leaders remain popular, regardless of the prior domestic problems. Examples of internal conflict that leaders may look to divert attention from includes social, political, and religious tensions. Along with an understanding of the theoretical basis for both the diversionary war and democratic peace theory, consistent empirical evidence serves as the most compelling justification for why these two theories best explain…show more content…
Leading up to the war, the world’s great powers formed two sets of alliances to create a balance power. The newly united Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire headed the Central Powers, and both of these nations featured monarchical and non-democratic domestic institutions. Despite some democratic characteristics, it is important to clarify that Germany, led by Emperor Wilhelm II, was largely perceived as non-democratic. Owen writes: “By neither the standards of its time nor those of this study can Germany be called a liberal democracy in 1914” (122). Meanwhile, the opposing triple entente featured the United Kingdom and France, both liberal democracies, as two of the three key states. Each alliance engaged in arms racing to maintain a balance of power, triggering the security dilemma and spiraling mistrust. This mistrust, along with Van Everea’s perceived offensive dominance at the time, encourages states to strike first. This inadvertent war theory, which is largely systemic, effectively explains the outbreak, but it is important to note that mistrust was the key factor behind the alliance formation. The different regime types, as explained by the democratic peace theory, enhanced mistrust between states. If the states shared democratic norms, such as accountability and more transparency, the greater trust
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