I am not a historian and have always been curious as to really why wars break out. I find it unthinkable how people can decide to kill each other in big numbers and cannot just resolve all matters peacefully.

Recently I read something that seems to be a genial explanation:

This belief also underpins Geoffrey Blainey’s famous argument that war breaks out in good part because states cannot agree on the balance of power, but the subsequent fighting then establishes “an orderly ladder of power between victors and losers.” If the rival states had recognized the true balance beforehand, he argues, there would have been no war. Both sides would have foreseen the outcome and been motivated to negotiate a peaceful settlement based on existing power realities, rather than fight a bloody war to reach the same end.

I saw this in Mearsheimer's book entitled "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics."

Following this logic, I can make the following observation: if State X becomes militarily stronger than before and, solely for this reason, makes some territorial demands to State Y, and if the latter refuses to concede territory and then loses the war and the requested territory, which gets annexed by State X, then the guilty side is State Y, because the cause of the war was a miscalculation by State Y. It is because of that miscalculation that people had to die. This reasoning seems to well substantiate why it is fair and just that the loser has to pay reparations regardless of who actually started the war.

How common among historians is the view that war is a result of a miscalculation, and how acceptable is it in historical articles to blame the side that made that miscalculation?

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    Weaker powers resist invasions not only in hopes of winning, but also as a deterrent, imposing costs on the invader. If invasions were cheap and easy I would expect to see even more of them. – Aaron Brick Sep 1 '19 at 21:26
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    Although not an exact duplicate, the answer from "Do historians agree that most wars are caused by religion?" is highly relevant. Historians are not in the business of assigning "blame" per se for historical events, but I think blaming wars on the weaker side for not immediately capitulating is particularly problematic logic. Not least because oftentimes the willingness to take a stand is what deters aggression and/or secures outside help. – Semaphore Sep 1 '19 at 21:58
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    The problem is that what's unthinkable to you is not unthinkable to other people. "Whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out "under orders" from somewhere or another; no one seems to think that there are people who might like to kill their neighbours now and then." - Saki (H.H. Munro) – jamesqf Sep 2 '19 at 4:03
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    Major problem of perspective here: Wars do not "break out"! Never! Wars are not volcanoes, solar flares etc. Wars are started, begun… Only if you take the perspective of a disconnected living peasant in the woods can you describe wars as an outbreak. But really they are planned, prepared, calculated – LаngLаngС Sep 2 '19 at 11:41
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    "Unthinkable"? I will admit to being an anthrophile(?): I love humanity. I love people. But its a fact that we are essentially animals, trying desperately to be something better. Mostly. To remove some scales from one's eyes, I would suggest Waller's Becoming Evil. Its centered on the causes of genocides, but is also a good guide for analyzing some causes for other kinds of violent disagreements. I don't recommend this lightly. Its just about the hardest to read book I've ever owned. – T.E.D. Sep 3 '19 at 14:26

No, wars break out because of finite resources and outcome is never 100% certain

Wars generally start when there is a finite amount of something ( land, oil, cattle, women, gold ...) and both sides want that something for their own use. This goes for all kind of wars, including religious (both sides want to organize society in a single territory according to their different beliefs) and civil wars.

Now, in your example, the weaker side should have recognized its weakness and submitted to demands of the stronger side without war. This actually did happen often (one example would be Gunboat diplomacy ). However, sometimes requests made by the stronger side are so huge that the weaker side is simply unable to comply without sacrificing ideology, national pride, or even its own very existence. By your logic, even in those cases the weaker side should yield because the outcome is inevitable, and at least some casualties could be avoided.

However, mathematically and physically speaking, war is such a complex process that a 100% (or even 99% ) precise prediction of the outcome is not possible. History is full of unexpected outcomes, from the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg to the Chinese communist victory in 1949 and maybe even the Taliban victory over US in the current war in Afghanistan.

Finally, there is another, psychological effect as a reason to wage war. If a weaker side calculates it is going to lose, and then yields without fight, it will portray themselves as cowardly. This in turn would embolden further aggression. On the other side, if a weaker side decides to fight (and extract certain price in blood from the stronger side) no matter the outcome, it would gain a reputation of fierceness and would deter potential aggressors in the future. Therefore, by fighting an hopeless war now, you actually lessen the possibility of hopeless wars in the future.

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    Calling religious wars, or ethnic wars, a matter of finite resources is really a stretch. – jamesqf Sep 2 '19 at 4:05
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    @jamesqf No it is not. Imagine a single place, let's say Jerusalem . Would it be Muslim or Christian ? It cannot be both, it cannot be replicated. It's a finite resources, and that is why you have crusades. – rs.29 Sep 2 '19 at 7:23
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    @jamesqf We are talking about war, not peace. As a rule, religious wars start exactly as you describe - two religions cannot coexist peacefully (for various reasons) in the same territory. . Both religions claim that territory so conflict is unavoidable. US Civil War is also good example - Southern states wanted to secede from Union, Union wanted to keep those states inside Union. I.e. again war for territory. – rs.29 Sep 2 '19 at 18:05
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    @LangLangC Paris is a mythological character, and he wanted woman or women (common reason for war in those time) . Galtieri represented a side that wanted to rule Argentina according to their own beliefs, Princip killed Franz Ferdinand in order to liberate Yugoslav lands from Austro-Hungarian rule. Napoleon III opposed Bismarck's plan about unifying and ruling whole of Germany etc etc ... Resources are behind of it all, my friend. – rs.29 Sep 5 '19 at 18:52
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    @LangLangC I'm not trying to push ideological explanation or to give answer according to certain strict school of thought . People do divide themselves to groups and warring factions by various criteria ( race, nation, tribe, political ideology, religion etc ...). I'm merely saying that no matter what type of division is there, there must exist certain resource that is objective and cause for war . – rs.29 Sep 5 '19 at 19:13

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