STV4232 – Causes of War in International Politics

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

This course covers fundamental topics in the study of war in international relations. The course will focus on some of the most prominent theories put forward to explain wars between states, and related security challenges involving non-state actors such as terrorism and civil war. We will focus on notable theories such as bargaining theory, power transition theory, variations on realist theory and liberal-institutionalist theories of conflict.

These discussions of theory will be accompanied by evaluations of empirical evidence, with a focus on systematic testing using state-of-the art methods and comparative data. We will examine regularities and answer questions such as:

  • why democracies rarely fight each other
  • when power transitions between great powers lead to war,
  • why some dictatorships are more likely to fight wars than others,
  • how the personal characteristics of leaders matter for war
  • how trade and globalization shapes patterns of interstate war
  • whether interstate war is declining, and why

Learning outcome


After having completed the course, students will:

  • Know how interstate conflict is defined, operationalized and coded.
  • Understand central theoretical and empirical contributions to the scholarly literature on interstate conflict, and use them in discussion about the topic.
  • Be familiar with theories of great power war, including bargaining theory and power transition theory, and know how to use them to explain great power war.
  • Be familiar with central theoretical and empirical contributions to the discussion on nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and how these relate to a potential agenda to avoid nuclear war.
  • Understand central empirical findings regarding democracies and conflict, including the “democratic peace”, as well as the conflict behavior of democracies.
  • Understand prominent theoretical explanations for the conflict behavior of democracies and dictatorships
  • Be familiar with empirical findings and theories relating to the relationship between globalization, capitalist development, trade and war
  • Know about the proposed causes of international terrorism
  • Understand how civil wars relate to interstate conflicts, and the causes of civil war
  • Grasp the discussion of whether the incidence and severity of interstate war is on the decline, and be able to evaluate the arguments for and against this proposition.


Having completed the course, students:

  • Will be able to understand and synthesize arguments and evidence in a systematic way, and communicate this to an audience.
  • Will have practical skills in conducting systematic search for literature and data.
  • Will have practical skills in conducting independent empirical study.
  • Will have skills in distinguishing between theoretical models, and actual cases, and be able to use theoretical concepts and insights to understand particular cases.
  • Will have skills to distinguish between foreign policy commentary that is not grounded in theory and empirical evidence, and analyses that are grounded in theory and evidence.

General competences

The students will be able to:

  • separate between analyses that are founded on science and those that are not
  • distinguish between theoretical models, empirical regularities, and particular cases that instantiate these models and regularities.
  • analyze arguments empirically and theoretically
  • distinguish between empirical, conceptual and theoretical statements
  • investigate social science question using the scientific method
  • distinguish between research that supports general causal inferences and research that does not.
  • Engage in technical discussions of research design, data, and interpretation within the field of conflict research.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

Apply for guest student status if you are admitted to another Master's programme (deadline 1 August / 5 January).

For incoming students

All Master's courses in Political Science must be registered manually by the Department, they will not appear in Studentweb. Contact your international coordinator at UiO.


Recommended previous knowledge

Bachelor's degree in Political Science or equivalent.




3-hour written examination and term paper.

The term paper must:

The term paper counts 60 percent of the grade. Your term paper and your written examination must be passed in the same semester as the course is taught. You will receive one overall grade for the course.

Previous exams and grading guidelines

Written examination

The written examination is conducted in the digital examination system Inspera. You will need to familiarize yourself with the digital examination arrangements in Inspera.

Read more about written examinations using Inspera.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read more about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Examination support material

Students may use dictionaries at this exam. Dictionaries must be handed in before the examination. Please read regulations for dictionaries permitted at the examination.

Language of examination

You may write your examination paper in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

If you are sick or have another valid reason for not attending the regular exam, we offer a postponed exam later in the same semester.

See also our information about resitting an exam.

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Spring 2021

This course is not given on a regular basis


Spring 2021

This course is not given on a regular basis

Teaching language