Call Us: US - +1 845 478 5244 | UK - +44 20 7193 7850 | AUS - +61 2 8005 4826

cause of great power war and bureaucratic politics

There is a lot more fluidity than the entangling alliances story suggests. Systematic study of shifts in great power rank finds a negative relationship between conflict and ordinal transitions.[9]  See Paul K. Macdonald and Joseph M. Parent, “Graceful…[9]26

Since the end of the Cold War, alliances have grown more nebulous as great power peace has remained robust, though the rise of China is beginning to test that. Scholars still debate whether multipolarity, bipolarity, or unipolarity is most conflict prone, but the data is not dispositive. There are good grounds to believe that polarity adeptly explains the attraction and repulsion of great powers and why competing blocs broadly line up as they do. But conflict and competition are not equivalent to war, and polarity has not provided a persuasive account for why and when system-wide wars flare up.27

In sum, World War I is such an engrossing case because almost everything contributes to the carnage: technology suggested victory could come quickly, leaders exercised poor judgment and oversight, the ideological atmosphere was a toxic froth of reckless fantasies, bureaucracies put parochial over national interests, and the horns of the security dilemma could not be drawn in. Some of these explanations receive more empirical support than others, but when everything goes wrong simultaneously causal priority becomes difficult to disentangle. Moreover, the world has changed since 1914. Even perfect understanding of the past could produce flawed policy in the present.