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Van Evera: Offense, defense, and the causes of war

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Van Evera. 1998. Offense, defense, and the causes of war. International Security 22 (spring): 5-43.

MAIN ARGUMENT: "war is far more likely when conquest is easy... shifts in the offense-defense balance have a large effect on the risk of war" (5). The shifts in the offense-defense balance can be either real or perceived, but shifts will affect the likelihood of war.

Y = War (the costs and benefits of war, to be more specific)

X = the offense-defense balance

DETERMINANTS of the Offense-Defense Balance:

THEORY: Offense-Defense's Ten Explanations for War


Van Evera uses three case studies to check whether the predictions of Offense-Defense hold up empirically. He studies: Europe since 1789, ancient China during Spring and Autumn and Warring States eras, and the US since 1789. He claims that these cases all show variation in the (real or perceived) offense-defense balance (IV). He admits that the Chinese case study is weak, but pins it on lack of knowledge. However, Van Evera claims that the overall indications of the three studies combined support the theory.

Research on similar subjects


Van Evera, Stephen (author)International RelationsWarRational ChoiceRealism

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