The road to war in Afghanistan was not a straight one. There is by now a vast and sophisticated modern literature on the causes of war (see, for example, Waltz, 1959; Aron, 1966; Blainey, 1973; Holsti, 1996; Doyle, 1997; Black, 1998), building on the insights of such classical theorists as Thucydides, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, which points to the potential roles of individuals, state structures, and anarchical interstate orders in contributing to the outbreak of war. There is also a very useful body of work on the role of perception and misperception in the shaping of policy (Jervis, 1976; Vertzberger, 1990). Making proper use of this material is always a challenge. On the one hand, it is perilous to become fixated with any single factor which the literature identifies. As the late Bernard Brodie once shrewdly observed, ‘any theory of the causes of war in general or of any war in particular that is not inherently eclectic and comprehensive, that is, which does not take into account at the outset the relevance of all sorts of diverse factors, is bound for that very reason to be wrong’ (Brodie, 1973: 339). At the same time, to explore all the insights which these writings can offer to those interested in the causes of the Afghanistan War would rapidly exhaust the patience of the reader. My hope is rather that echoes from these magisterial analyses will be audible at many different points in the pages which follow.
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