Summary Of Rationalist Explanations For War By James Fearon

In “Rationalist Explanations for War,” James Fearon argues that due to war’s costly nature and states’ risk-averse, or at least risk-neutral, tendencies, there should always exist some possible prewar agreement between two disputing states that both parties would prefer to achieve over committing to war. While seeking to reveal his main claim that war is caused by information problems, commitment problems, and issue indivisibilities, Fearon critiques five traditional Neorealist explanations of war: anarchy, positive expected utility, preventive war, lack of information, and miscalculation of relative power. Although Fearon’s critique of the majority of these theories are earnest and do expose multiple logical shortcomings, his rapid dismissal …show more content…
He commences his analysis of the anarchy argument with a reference to Kenneth Waltz’s “Man, the State, and War,” and narrows in on the claim that “war occurs because there is no way to prevent it…In the absence of a supreme authority there is then the constant possibility that conflicts will be settled by force,” (Waltz, 188.) Fearon undeniably agrees that anarchy breeds uncertainty in international political dynamics, yet he remains unconvinced that the lack of a central governing force is enough to explain the recurrence of war, especially when one considers the significant associated costs. This may initially seem to be a fully developed argument against anarchy’s ability to account for war; however, in focusing solely on one component of Waltz’s argument, Fearon fails to address a key aspect of Waltz’s preferred theory that does in fact account for the phenomenon of costly war: …show more content…
The commitment problem rests in the idea that states are unable to reach mutually beneficial prewar agreements because one or both parties would have incentives to renege on the terms. Fearon does in fact state that this problem is inherently linked to anarchy, but only in so much that there is no central governing body to enforce the terms of any prewar agreement. He once again fails to clearly link this to Waltz’s self-help notion, which when applied to this situation would make it so that states are ultimately incapable of reaching an agreement because of an innate distaste for cooperation and need for self reliance within the uncertain international field. Although Fearon’s failure to acknowledge the concept of self-help weakens his argument, it does not negate his claims entirely as they retain their merit and would only have benefitted from this additional

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