Escaping the Deadly Embrace: Encirclement at the Origins of World War I

Wednesday, January 6, 2021
11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

Virtual Seminar

  • Andrea Bartoletti

* Please note all CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.


Seminar Recording:


About the Event: What lies at the origins of major wars?

I argue that major wars are caused by the attempts of great powers to escape their two-front war problem: encirclement. To explain the causal mechanism that links encirclement to major war, I identify an intervening variable: the increase in the invasion ability of the immediate rival. This outcome unfolds in a three-step process: double security dilemma, war initiation, and war contagion.

Encirclement is a geographic variable that occurs in presence of one or two great powers (surrounding great powers) on two different borders of the encircled great power. The two front-war problem triggers a double security dilemma (step 1) for the encircled great power, which has to disperse its army to secure its borders. The surrounding great powers do not always have the operational capability to initiate a two-front war (latent encirclement) but, when they increase their invasion ability (actualized encirclement), the encircled great power attacks (war initiation, step 2). The other great powers intervene due to the rival-based network of alliances for preventing their respective immediate rival from increasing its invasion ability (war contagion, step 3).

I assess my theory in the outbreak of WWI. This article provides ample support to the claim that major wars are caused by a great power that has the limited goal of eliminating its two-front war problem. These findings have important implications for the prospects of major wars, since I anticipate that in the long term China will face the encirclement of India and Russia.

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About the Speaker: Andrea Bartoletti holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago. His research interests span on international security and IR theory with a focus on the origins of major wars, polarity and war, U.S. grand strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, and great powers' intervention in civil wars.