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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Understanding Preventive Wars Lessons from Pearl Harbor
by Fatton, Lionel Pierre, M.A., Waseda University (Japan), 2011, 123; 1493260
Abstract (Summary)

The most widely accepted interpretation of the Japanese decision to attack Pearl Harbor follows the general argument proposed by the concept of preventive war. Japan decided to attack the United States and her allies in December 1941 in order to avoid having to fight a more costly war later. There are, however, apparent weaknesses in the concept of preventive war in explaining Japanese leaders’ way of thinking on the eve of the Pacific War.

This thesis demonstrates that what I call concept of refractory war provides a better understanding of the Japanese decision by releasing the assumption of nations as unitary and rational actors. According to this concept, a preventive war is undertaken by a nation incapable of adapting domestically to a rapidly changing systemic environment created by a changing power differential. Lacking the capacity to increase sufficiently its national power or to undergo the necessary domestic transformations in order to adjust to the evolving constraints imposed upon it by the systemic environment, the nation undertakes a preventive war as a mean to directly affect the power differential, thus avoiding a position of increasing vulnerability toward its opponent.

In addition to emphasizing the fact that systemic theories dedicated to understanding the causes of war must be put into the historical context by taking into account nations’ domestic environments, the analysis of the Japanese decision provides important conclusions for the study of preventive war and the formulation of coercive diplomacy. The main observations are: Relative declines in aggregate/national power do not possess the potential to create a preventive motivation for war. Only relative declines in military power can potentially lead to a preventive motivation for war. Democracies are expected to be very reluctant to undertake preventive wars. Inversely, autocratic forms of government are expected to be much more inclined to wage such wars. During the initial stage of an opponent’s engaging in an unacceptable policy, coercive diplomacy must be strong and sharp, while it must be mild and gradual at later stages.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ueki, Chikako Kawakatsu
School: Waseda University (Japan)
School Location: Japan
Source: MAI 49/05M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern history, International Relations, Political science, Military studies
Publication Number: 1493260
ISBN: 978-1-124-63592-7
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