Political Science 686                                                                                      Spring 2010


                      Seminar in International Relations: Understanding War


Professor: Dr. Meredith Reid Sarkees                                Class: Thursday, 6:30-9:10 pm

Office: Zuloft 107                                                                  Room: DuSable 252

Office hours: Thursday 5:30-6:30pm

Email: msarkees@niu.edu



         “War... is a continuation of political activity by other means.” Carl von Clausewitz





            Is Clausewitz correct? Is war merely a different form of politics as usual? Is the practice of war linked to innate human aggression, or is it a cultural or historical artifact that is becoming of limited utility? Or is it, as Chris Hedges has claimed “a force that gives us meaning”?          


            The focus of this course is the phenomenon of war: the causes of war; the varying types of war; examples of war; and the public presentations of war. This course is specifically designed as an introduction to the wide variety of perspectives within the contemporary war literature. In particular, the course is organized around three primary ways of studying war: through a theoretical approach; by historical case studies; and by quantitative analysis. Through discussions of the works of scholars whose research centers upon wars and through analysis of the ways in which wars are portrayed in the contemporary media, we shall attempt to understand the role that war plays in human society, both in a historical context and in terms of the ways in which war is evolving in the contemporary world.



            Since this is a graduate course intended for political science doctoral students and serious MA students, the class is designed as an interactive SEMINAR. A seminar format means that students will be required to complete reading assignments prior to class and to be prepared to discuss them in class. The theory behind seminars is that one learns best by exploring and discussing topics within a group. True education (or “critical thinking”) involves individual effort to examine, understand, and develop coherence to one’s beliefs, and this process can be furthered by listening to the ideas of others and by verbalizing and explaining one’s own ideas. Thus, a seminar format assumes the preparation and participation of all members of the class. A seminar will only be successful if all members participate. Each individual’s involvement aids the class by presenting differing perspectives, but also helps the individual to develop coherence to her/his own thoughts.

             A related goal of this course is to encourage "critical reading," or the ability to carefully analyze what an author is trying to say. The reading assignments are not extensive, but students will be expected to read them with care and to be able to discuss the author's perspective on specific issues. This will necessitate reading a selection slowly or reading it several times (so be sure to allow sufficient time to complete the reading assignments).

            To further this process, prior to each class meeting, the entire class will be given several questions  concerning the author's position on a specific issue, which they should be able to answer from the required readings. Thus each class member should read the assignments with the goal of understanding the answers to these questions. In addition, two or three students will be assigned to serve as discussion leaders for each class. They will be responsible for conducting the seminar and encouraging the discussion and analysis of the required readings through addressing the assigned questions. Serving as the discussion leader will be a component of the final grade for this class. The grade will be based on both the thoroughness of each student’s understanding of the material and the ability to conduct a lively discussion that engages the entire class. The Grade for the seminar discussion leader will be calculated as follows: A = thorough participation and ability to engage others in discussion; B = having some understanding of the assigned readings, but lacking a thorough understanding of the material; discussion only partially answers the discussion questions; C = less than average, only a moderate comprehension of the material and corresponding uneven seminar discussion; D = less than average preparation, incomplete comprehension of the material, and lackluster discussion; F = lack of class participation and/or lack of evidence of having read material.


            The Course will also include a number of brief film clips to provide visual representations of several major wars. The purpose of these clips is to examine: the different types of war: the ways in which warfare has evolved; and the costs of war. Some of the images in these clips may be disturbing in terms of their portrayals of the violence of war. However, as psychologist James Hillman argues, to understand war we need to examine both the myths that have developed about war, and the realities of war. 



REQUIRED READING  -The following texts are available at the Campus Store (or the library). We shall be reading virtually all of these texts, so it is necessary for each class member to have access to a copy.


Doyle, Michael. 1997. Ways of War and Peace.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Stoessinger, John G. 2008. Why Nations go to War. tenth edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth.

            Kolko, Gabriel. 2006. The Age of War, The United States Confronts the World. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.


GRADING The final grade will be based upon:


Seminar Discussion Leader                             10%

Class Attendance & Participation                   10%

            Midterm Exam                                                20%

            Comprehensive final exam                              30%

            Three War Case studies                                  30%



            These exams will be essay exams, which will be based primarily upon the questions utilized in the seminar discussions.  For the exams, makeups will be available only if: (l) you are  seriously ill on the day of the exam, and (2) you can provide a doctor's excuse to that effect, and (3) you notify me in advance, or (4) there is a legitimate, verifiable and hindering act of God.



    Class attendance is mandatory. Especially in a class which only meets once a week, any absence represents a minimum of a week’s work lost. Each class meeting is important. Particularly in a seminar, absences hurt not only the individual, but also the entire class. Attendance impacts not only upon one's exam and class participation grades, but upon the other members of the seminar's understanding of the material as well. Thus the Instructor will track class attendance, and this will be a components of the class participation grade.



    The writing assignments for this class will be three analytical war case studies. Students should select three wars that are of particular interest to them. Case studies cannot be the wars we shall be discussing in class (the US Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, the dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the Arab-Israeli wars, Iraq’s wars against Iran and Kuwait, the current Iraq War). There are over 650 wars from 1816 to the present, so there are numerous cases available. Each case study should include a brief discussion of the details of the war (type of war, who is fighting whom, when, where) and will then focus upon discussing how each of the major theoretical perspectives (Realism, Liberalism & Socialism) can help us understand this war. Specific Case Study assignment included below. Students will give a brief presentation about the war to the class (3 minutes), and the class will utilize the data from these case studies to develop a class war dataset.



COURSE OUTLINE & READING ASSIGNMENTS -Reading assignments are to be completed BEFORE the date indicated­


I. January 14, 2010 - Introduction to Course - What are Wars?

            no required reading beforehand. Material will be presented, read, and discussed in class.

            Discussion of Syllabus (available on Blackboard)

            Sarkees - Typology of War - the Correlates of War Project - powerpoint

            Sarkees - Competing perspectives on War - handout

            Seminar discussion

            Movie clip - “The American Civil War”


II. January 21, 2010 - Competing Perspectives on War continued & Introduction to Realism

            Sarkees - Resort to War - chapter 7, pp. 535-555 - Blackboard                                             

            Doyle - Introduction - The Politics of Peace and War          

            Doyle - The Range of Realism

            Doyle - Complex Realism: Thucydides pp. 49-54, 65-75



III. January 28, 2010 - The Levels of Analysis, Realism Continued & World War I Discussion

            Russett and Starr - “Analyzing World Politics: Levels of Analysis and Constraint” - Blackboard

            Doyle - chapter 2 - Fundamentalism

            Doyle - chapter 3 - Structuralism                                                                   

            Stoessinger - chapter 1 (World War I)

            Movie clip -“Gallipoli”


IV. February 4, 2010 - Realism Continued & World War II

            Doyle chapter 5 - Balancing Power Classically

            Doyle Conclusion Realists: Explaining Differences

            Deutsch & Singer “Multipolar Systems and International Stability” - Blackboard

            Stoessinger - chapter 2

            Movie clip - “Stalingrad


V. February 11, 2010 - Liberalism & World War II continued

            First Paper Due & Developing the Class War Dataset

            Doyle The Varieties of Liberalism                                                     

            Doyle chapter 6 - Locke

            Doyle chapter 7 - Smith                     

            Movie clip - “Saving Private Ryan”


VI. February 18, 2010 - Dr. Sarkees will be attending the International Studies Association meeting

            View the movie “The 50 Years War” Part 1 - Israel and the Arabs


VII.  February 25, 2010 - Liberalism continued & Arab-Israeli Wars

            Doyle - chapter 8 - Kant                                                        

            Doyle - Liberals and Realists - Explaining Differences

            Stoessinger - chapter 7                                                           


VIII. March 4, 2010 - First Exam


IX.  March 11, 2010 -no class - Spring Break


X. March 18, 2010 - Socialism & Vietnam War

            Doyle - Introduction A Great Betrayal?

            Doyle - chapter 8

            Doyle Chapter 10

            Stoessinger - chapter 4


XI. March 25, 2010 -Vietnam continued

            Second Paper Due & Developing Class Dataset

            Kolko - chapter 1

            Kolko - chapter 2

            Movie clip - “Thin Red Line”


XII. April 1, 2010 - Nationalism & War

            Stoessinger - chapter 6

            Kolko - chapter 3

            Lake & Rothchild - “Ethnic Conflict” - Blackboard

            Henderson “End of Illusion” - Blackboard


XIII. April 8, 2010 - International Intervention

            Doyle - chapter 11

            Stoessinger - chapter 5


XIV. April 15, 2010 - America & War

            Kolko - chapter 4

            Stoessinger - chapter 8

            Movie clip - “Uncovered: The whole Truth about the Iraq War”


XV. April 22, 2010 - America & War continued

            Third paper due & Class Dataset

            Stoessinger - chapter 9

            Kolko - chapters 5

            Kolko - chapter 6

XVI. April 29, 2010 - Contemporary War

            O’Rourke - Give War a Chance - Blackboard

            Wallensteen and Sollenberg, “The End of International War?” - Blackboard

            Stoessinger - chapter 10

            Sarkees - Resort to War - chapter 7 - pp. 556-563

XVII. - May 6, 2010 - Final Exam 6:00-7:50 pm




Three War Case Studies


With the goal of promoting "critical reading" and “critical thinking,” these case studies are designed to allow students the opportunity to examine aspects of three wars in greater detail. Each study should have two major parts: 1) a brief discussion of the specifics of the war; and 2) the application of the major theories about the causes of war (Realism, Idealism, and Socialism) to that war. Students are asked to prepare an analytical paper, which can be based upon material in the class texts, additional outside research, and/or information provided in any of the in-class videos. However, primarily this is to be an individual thought piece, more than a standard research paper.

On the date that the paper is due, each student will have the opportunity to tell the class about their war topic (3 minutes). The data from these case studies will be used to construct a class war database.


Each of the papers should be constructed around the following format:


1.      A brief description of the war, specifically indicating: a) the type of war (inter-state, extra-state, intra-state, or non-state); b) who is fighting whom? c) start date; d) duration of war in days; e) number of battle deaths sustained by each participant; f) continent where war is fought.

2.      Briefly describe the origin of the war. Indicate which level of analysis (individual, state, or system) that you think best explains the origin of the war.

3.      Using the three major theories of war (realism, liberalism & socialism), apply their theoretical insights to the historical record. Briefly describe how each theory helps to explain the events of the war. Which aspects of war does the theory highlight, and which aspects does it ignore, or not explain well.

4.      Discuss which insights you find most persuasive and why.

5.      A Bibliography:


Each paper is to be typed and a minimum of 8 pages in length (Maximum font size is 12 pt. and no margins over 1 inch please). In order to credit the originators of ideas, you must indicate the source of all words, phrases, and conclusions which are not your own. For the sake of simplicity, please use the APSA parenthetical format for citations, which includes the author’s last name, year, and page# in parentheses after the quote (or paraphrase). For example:  


Locke argued that the state of nature is  “a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license” (Locke, 1998, 8).


This format requires that you also must include a bibliography, listing all the sources to which you referred. For instance:


Locke, John. 1998. “Treatise of Civil Government,” in Nancy S. Love, ed. Dogmas and Dreams. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers.




Utilization of a citation format is to preclude the possibility of misunderstandings or of plagiarism (whether overt of inadvertent). Students in this course, as well as all courses in which independent research and writing play a vital part in the course requirements, should be aware of the strong sanctions against plagiarism. If you have any questions or doubts about what plagiarism entails or how to properly acknowledge source materials and the works of others, be sure to consult the instructor.





1.      Classroom Etiquette: Students are to arrive at class on time. Two tardy arrivals are equivalent to one class absence.  Students are to remain for the entire session unless excused by the professor beforehand or confronted with a serious personal emergency. For instance, it is not acceptable for students to walk in and out of class to answer cell phones, take casual bathroom and smoking breaks, or attend to other personal matters. Cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices that make noise must be turned off during class unless the instructor has been notified beforehand of a special circumstance (e.g., sick family member, pregnant wife, special childcare situation, etc.). No one should talk while someone else is talking; this includes comments meant for a classmate rather than the entire group. What may seem like a whisper or a harmless remark to one person can be a distraction to someone else, particularly in a small room. Overall, classroom dialogue and behavior should always be courteous, respectful of others, and consistent with the expectations set forth by the university.


2.      Makeup Exams: A makeup final examination will only be given in extraordinary circumstances. If such circumstances arise, please contact the instructor as soon as possible and before the scheduled exam. To keep the process fair for everyone in the course, students may be asked to support requests for makeup examinations with documentation. A missed examination without prior notification and a documented excuse will result in a zero and a course grade of “F” as opposed to an incomplete.


3.      Students with Disabilities: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


4.      Late Assignments: A research paper or assignment submitted after the due date will be penalized by a deduction of ten points or one letter grade per day. Since students will have had several weeks to write their papers and prepare other assignments, this standard will be waived only in extreme circumstances supported by documentation.


5.      Academic Dishonesty: In preparing their work and meeting the requirements of this course, members of this seminar are expected to adhere to all the rules, regulations, and standards set forth by the Department of Political Science, Graduate School, Northern Illinois University, and the scholarly community. This statement encompasses intentional and unintentional plagiarism, cheating on examinations, using, purchasing or stealing others’ work, misusing library materials, and so forth. Failure to honor these rules, regulations, and standards could result in a failing course grade and/or disciplinary action.


6.      Incomplete Requests: Incompletes are major burden to both the student and the instructor. Such petitions will be granted rarely and only in extraordinary circumstances. The instructor reserves the right to ask for documentation to verify the problem preventing completion of the course by the normal deadlines. If the student does not present documentation from a university office or official, the matter will be left to the instructor’s discretion.


7.      Religious Observances: The University asks instructors to make students aware of the following policy. Northern Illinois University as a public institution of higher education in the State of Illinois does not observe religious holidays.  It is the university’s policy, however, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances of individual students in regards to admissions, class attendance, scheduling examinations and work requirements.  Such policies shall be made known to faculty and students.  Religious observance includes all aspects of religious observance and practice as well as belief.  Absence from classes or examinations for religious observance does not relieve students from responsibility for any part of the course work required during the period of absence.  To request accommodation, students who expect to miss classes, examinations or other assignments as a consequence of their religious observance shall provide instructors with reasonable notice of the date or dates they will be absent.” The instructor is respectful and fully supportive of students who wish to participate in religious observances. Excused absences will be provided, but students must understand and follow the above policy with respect to reasonable notice and making up work.


8.      Handouts: Handouts are a privilege for those students who attend class on a regular basis. No student is entitled to supplemental materials simply because he or she are registered for the course.


9.      Additional Assignments: The instructor reserves the right to assign additional reports, presentations, or short papers if the quality of the class discussion is less than satisfactory or he believes such assignments will enhance students’ understanding of the material.