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War is an armed conflict between nations or politically distinct groups. Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin (1937–1941) counted the wars in Europe from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1925. He documented 967 wars, an average of one war every two to three years. Counting years or parts of a year in which a country was at war, at 28 percent Germany had the lowest record of warfare.

Spain's 67 percent gave it the dubious distinction of being the most war-prone. Sorokin found that Russia had experienced only one peaceful quarter-century during the entire previous thousand years. Since the time of William the Conqueror, who took power in 1066, England had been at war an average of 56 out of each 100 years.

Sociologist Nicholas Timasheff (1965) identified three essential conditions of war. The first is an antagonistic situation in which two or more states confront incompatible objectives. For example, each may want the same land or resources.

The second is a cultural tradition of war. Because their nation has fought wars in the past, the leaders of a group see war as an option for dealing with serious disputes with other nations.

The third is a "fuel" that heats the antagonistic situation to a boiling point, so that politicians cross the line from thinking about war to actually waging it.

Timasheff identified seven such "fuels." He found that war is likely if a country's leaders see the antagonistic situation as an opportunity to achieve one or more of these objectives:

  • Revenge: settling "old scores" from earlier conflicts
  • Power: dominating a weaker nation?
  • Prestige: defending the nation's "honor"?
  • Unity: uniting rival groups within their country?
  • Position: protecting or exalting the leaders' positions
  • Ethnicity: bringing under their rule "our people" who are living in another country?
  • Beliefs: forcibly converting others to religious or political beliefs