In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes wrote the following about why humans fight:
‘So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain; the second for safety; and the third for reputation. The first use violence, to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children and cattle; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons or by reflection in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.’
Rather than being some sort of masculine pathology, as I’m sure your children are now being told in school, these things all have a perfectly rational basis.
In the first case, which Hobbes calls “competition”, some rival stands between you (or your tribe, or your nation) and a necessary resource. Natural selection — i.e., differential survival and reproduction — will obviously favor organisms who will act to remove the obstacle, at least to the extent that doing so does not itself lower their own prospect of survival. (Obviously, a species of deer that tends to attack the tigers at the watering-hole will soon go extinct.)
The second case, which Hobbes calls “diffidence”, describes the rational behavior of the obstacle. If you are aware that some neighboring tribe has its hungry eyes on your hunting ground, you have two choices: you can upgrade your defenses, which locks you into a costly, and risky, arms-race in perpetuam, or you can make a pre-emptive attack and remove the threat once and for all.
The third case, “glory”, is the rational approach for defending one’s tangible assets when appeals to law are not an option: it is to make clear that any trespass will be met with swift retribution, and by so doing build a reputation for oneself as someone not to be messed with.
Of interest tonight is the second case. It is a major primer for international conflict, and has been understood as such since the Peloponnesian War. (Indeed, it was Hobbes’ reading of Thucydides that helped him understand the idea in the first place.)
So, with all this in mind (and a hat tip to J.D.), here’s an excellent article on the sudden rise of China as a major power, and what that might mean for global security.