How Do Levels of Analysis Help Us

War exists for a number of reasons - How Do Levels of Analysis Help Us introduction. States wanting to acquire land, countries that require resources from another country and using force in order to get it, and religious, or holy wars. The causes of war are vast but the roots generally come from individual decisions by leaders, internal state intervention, or international conflicts. Whatever the reason, it is safe to assume that war is a constant; a variable that we as a race have became accustomed too.

It is no wonder then that many people have tried to define and re-define war over and over, inventing theories and formulas that we might gain a better understanding of the implications and motives behind going to war. At the end of World War 1, the world became engrossed in how we could prevent such a catastrophe such as World War 1 from ever happening again. The League of Nations was set up as a result of the treaty of Versailles in 1919, in order to combat the outbreak of war and further cement the world in peaceful ideals.

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International relations helps better explain the relationships between states (for example, why the UK and the USA have such a close coalition) and explains why there is international interdependence, as in why member states of the UN have to accept decisions that don’t necessarily facilitate their own needs. International relations explain the governmental systems of dominance and dependence that can help, and hinder countries in their decision-making (e. g. Capitalism, Imperialism and communism).

International relations explains more than just the actions of individual and collective states, it also explains the actions of governmental and non-governmental groups, such as terrorist organizations, guerilla militia groups and Green Peace. The I. R theory exists solely to help us understand the world and guide policy decisions. Different theories of I. R. can help provide different perspectives of world events. It is these theories of I. R that can be broken down into two categories, either rationalist, or reflectivist theories.

Rationalist theories are centralized around the idea that reality is a given, it is because it is. Realism and liberalism are part of rationalist theories. Where as reflectivist theories believe that reality is constructed and therefore reproduced. The political scientist Kenneth Waltz, who classified theories of international relations in his 1959 novel, “Man, the State, and War”(3) coined the level of analysis theory. In his book, Waltz highlighted his idea that international relations can be broken down into three main levels of understanding.

In the first level, Waltz explains that the individual, primarily focusing on a more psychological reason behind going to war, and the individual actions that leaders make, is driving international politics. Examples of this can be seen in controversial leaders, extremist views, religion, and greed and general ideologies. The second level explains that the states and the domestic goings on inside a country, or state drive international politics. The third level focuses on the worldwide idea of perpetual anarchy within states, and the systematic factors that are exerted on state behavior.

Waltz’s main contribution to political science was in his creation of Neorealism, otherwise known as structural realism. It posits that the actions of states can usually be explained by the amount of pressure that is exerted on them by other competitive states, which in turn, limits and puts a constraint on their choices. Neorealism therefore aims to better explain recognizable and common patterns in the behavior of states. Waltz says that the world operates in a constant state of worldwide anarchy.

He identifies the perpetual anarchy of the international environment, from the rules of the domestic. Within the domestic realm, all states (or actors) might plead to, and be influenced by, a central governing authority – be it ‘the state’ or ‘the government’ – however, in the international context, there is no such means of order that exists. The perpetual anarchy of international politics – its general lack of a prime central enforcer –results in the states acting in such a way that, above all, ensures the security of the state over anything, or else risk being left behind.

This is an important fundamental constant of political decision making that is faced by democracies and dictatorships alike: in rare cases, states cannot rely on the pious will of other contenders to aid them, so the states must be prepared to fight for themselves. Contrary to the Neorealist belief, there is the Neoliberalist approach. The liberalist approach says that the state is the main actor but also believe that other actors are important and intracle to survival in certain situations. They believe in absolute gains as apposed to relative gains. Robert Keohane came up with an opposing theory to the realist argument.

It is called “complex interdependence”. Keohane argued that the decline in the military and a rise in economic interdependence should result in an increase the desire for states to co-operate with each other. The innate human instinct of survival is a reason why individual decisions on a moral and ethical level are factors that come into play when there is the possibility of war. The Cold War is an example of this as the soviet leaders and US leaders were no doubt facing moral quandaries in making their decision. The idea of nuclear proliferation can be beneficial and equally costly.

Nuclear weapons are otherwise capital weapons. The first nuclear weapons were developed by the US and UK during World War 2, created by the physicist Oppenheimer. A vast amount of government money was used in the creation of the bomb, around 20 billion dollars was spent in the development of it. Three bombs were developed by the US, 1 was tested, and the other two were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two bombs were named “Fat Man” and the other was named “Little Boy”, after Winston and Churchill, and president Truman. 65 years on, and children are still being born with bodily defects.

Kenneth Waltz says that the theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD) will be effective within all security situations, regardless of previous skirmishes or recent to current aggression. Waltz saw the Cold War as proof of MAD theorem– the single situation where tension between two main Powers did not turn have need for military presence. This was because nuclear weapons instill caution and tactfulness in political leaders. The US nor the Russians would want to risk nuclear war in order to gain more territory or obtain power, therefore a peaceful stalemate occurred.

Waltz believed that this would still happen in all given circumstances. An argument for nuclear proliferation is when the US dropped the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it stopped the Second World War and Japan surrendered. This is an example of how international conflicts and worldwide communication can bring about. The fear that is felt pending a nuclear disaster can itself lead to deterrence. Deterrence was the most popular strategy during the Cold War, as both the Soviet states and the US were both afraid of receiving a nuclear attack that neither wanted to fire their weapons. 2) However this can lead to stockpiling of nuclear weapons, which in turn can lead to a nuclear arms race. There are two forms of nuclear proliferation, Vertical proliferation and Horizontal proliferation. Vertical is when existing nuclear states add more weapons to their arsenals, perhaps resulting in stockpiling nuclear weapons. Whereas Horizontal proliferation is where new nuclear states are born, resulting in new power being bestowed upon states that may or may not pose a threat, depending on leader. The main 5 countries with the biggest nuclear arsenals are America, Russia, Britain China and France.

Japan and many other countries such as Australia, absolutely refuse to own nuclear weapons, due to the various ethical reasons and financial implications. They would rather spend money on economic advantages and use it to better their own countries. Proliferation leading to proliferation is an idea that was defined by Scott Sagan in his news article, “Why Do States Build Nuclear Weapons? ”(4) His idea can be seen as a systematic chain reaction. It states that if one country obtains a nuclear weapon, it produces a domino like effect within the state.

Certain states in the region will try to develop or obtain nuclear weapons to equalize or get rid of the threat on the state. If we look back through the history of warfare, we can observe how effective this can be. When the US was demonstrating its nuclear capabilities, post- bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Russians began developing their own nuclear system in anticipation of the Cold War. As the Russian military were strengthening their nuclear arsenal, France and Britain saw this as a direct threat on their security and they pursued their own nuclear capabilities.

This is another example of the third level of analysis, where international powers come to blows. In conclusion, the levels of analysis are effective in preventing war, and they still are as relevant today as they were 75 years ago. War is explained and we see some of the motives behind the need to go to war. Sometimes realizing what drives people can lead to others using that as an example on how not to act. We have seen what war can do and no one wants to go through it, it’s common sense. The levels of analysis give us a logical guide to what leaders may do in order to incite war.


1. University of Aberdeen summer access course notes, Social Sciences.

2. “Ancient Warfare: A Very Short Introduction”, Harry Sidebottom, Oxford University press, page 72.

3. “Political Philosophy: A very short introduction”, David Miller, Oxford University press.


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