WE KNOW WAR is awful, so why is it making a comeback? The truth is that Leaders can't always avoid war, but being rational helps.

THE TWO bloodiest wars of the past two years have been results of tragic miscalculations. A third war, which has dominated the news lately, might also have been set in motion by a costly mistake, as I'll explain.

To economists, this raises a question : If wars are so awful, why do we keep blundering into them?

First, the data. The wars that cost the most lives in 2022 were in Ethiopia and Ukraine. Battle-related deaths exceeded 100,000 in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and 80,000 in Ukraine, according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Those conflicts drove battle-related deaths for the world as a whole to a 28-year high of 237,000, the institute says. Believe it or not, 2023 is peaceful by comparison.

The war that's in the news now is the Hamas attack on Israelis on Oct 7 and the Israel Defense Forces counterattack, which it says is necessary to root Hamas out of Gaza.

There's a possible argument that each war would not have occurred but for someone's terrible miscalculation. In the contested Tigray region of Ethiopia, the Tigray People's Liberation Front attacked an Ethiopian Army Post on 2020, ''probably is an attempt to negotiate a better deal '' with the central government.

Eli Berman, an economist who studies war at the University of California, San Diego, told me. If that's the case, it didn't go as planned. Instead of negotiating, the government chose to fight it out.

There were spasms of heavy fighting from November 2020 to November 2022, charges of war crimes by both sides and famine.

I won't spend time on the well-known miscalculations of President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who thought President Volodymyr Zelinsky of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people lacked the strength and will to resist a Russian invasion. The war has weakened Russia and turned Putin into a pariah in the West.

As for Hamas, the theory going around is that the surprise attack was more successful than the terrorist group ever imagined - which turned out to be a bad thing, because it provoked Israel to retaliate far harder than it has in the past.

Economists and political scientists used to believe that miscalculations was perfectly consistent with rationality. They thought that the political leaders who were fully rational could nevertheless commonly made mistakes based on incorrect information about their opponents power or resolve.

But in an influential article in 1995, James Fearon, a Stanford political scientist, then at the University of Chicago, showed that in most cases [not all], a rational leader should be able to clear up confusion and make decisions with sound information.

Given how destructive and deadly wars are, political leaders have strong incentive to use ''diplomacy and other forms of communication to avoid such costly miscalculations,'' Mr. Fearon wrote in '' Rationalists Explanations for War, '' which was published in the Journal International Organization.

'' To give a concrete example,'' Mr. Fearon wrote, ''why did Germans leaders in 1914 not simply ask their British and Russian counterparts what they would do if Austria were to attack Serbia?

If they could have done so and if the answers could have been believed, the Germans might not have miscalculated concerning Russian and, more importantly, British willingness to fight.

In consequence they might have avoided the horrendous costs of World War 1. ''

The Essay Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Peter Coy.


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