Big wars, little wars, and theory construction

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10 Scopus citations


I argue that there is no a priori ground for claiming that a general theory of all wars is preferable to separate theories of big wars and little wars, or vice-versa. The analytical distinction between “big” war and “little” war is excessively vague and devoid of empirical content, and it begs the more important question of what typologies of wars (if any) are most useful for the purposes of theory construction. Moreover, the relative utility of a single or separate theories depends on the specific question one wishes to answer, on the theory one constructs for that purpose, and on the tradeoffs one is willing to make among different criteria of theory evaluation. The tradeoffs between the parsimony and analytic power of a theory and its descriptive accuracy and predictive power are particularly important. These tradeoffs cannot be made in the abstract, for they require an evaluation of the degree of empirical support of each theory as well as its analytic power.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-224
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 1990

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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