Why Do Wars Happen?
The United States appears to be closer to a great power conflict than at any point in recent decades, whether it is due to Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait or Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear strikes. Although there are risks involved and the US must be ready for each of these conflicts, analysts and policymakers run the risk of misjudging our adversaries and choosing the incorrect paths to peace by focusing only on the times when states engage in war and ignoring the times when they settle their differences amicably and prevent it from escalating.
Because fighting is destructive at all scales, from small-scale skirmishes to massive military operations, nations make every effort to keep hostilities at bay. The costs of battle also ensure that, when they do break out, nations have strong incentives to keep the combat limited, especially when it could potentially result in nuclear war. One of the most important lessons from both game theory and history is that war is a last choice, and the more expensive the war, the more both sides will try to avoid it.