There are obvious costs to war: loss of human life, destruction of property, disruption of people's lives, and much more.

However, despite these costs wars continue to happen. I'm wondering what benefits exist to off-set these costs. Are there existing works of scientific theory which explain what the benefits of war are and how they offset the costs?

I'm looking for an answer based on cost-benefit comparisons, so something like rational-choice or economic theory would be ideal.


This is an interesting question, but too broad for this site. I will take this article as a reference for some arguably good effects of some wars (World Wars):

The First World War destroyed empires, created numerous new nation-states, encouraged independence movements in Europe’s colonies, forced the United States to become a world power and led directly to Soviet communism and the rise of Hitler.

The difference was that the second major internecine war in Europe in a generation led to a profound change in political thinking, at least in Western Europe, about how states should conduct their relations.

What is incontestable, however, is the number of advances in science, technology and medicine, as well as the revolutionary changes in social behaviour that occurred as a result of the 1914-18 conflict. The aristocracy was overthrown or its role greatly diminished. The socialist and labour movements seized the opportunity to make considerable advances;

Going back to Napoleonic wars, the first answer here enumerates some of arguably benefits of Napoleonic wars:

  • German speakers were consolidated in a few big states
  • Italian speaking peoples found themselves under one government
  • creation of the modern, federal 'state'
  • the sharing of power between reactionary aristocrats and the up-and-coming industrialists

There are many other examples of possible benefits of a war and one can write an entire book about it.

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    Frankly you can easily turn some of those advantages aroud: nationalism as the basis for subsequent (world) wars, etc. – SX welcomes ageist gossip Sep 3 '18 at 4:43
  • If it's too broad of a question, then you shouldn't attempt to answer it. – indigochild Sep 4 '18 at 3:57
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    Most of the consequences you mentioned arose in the aftermath and/or were side products of the war. It can hardly be argued that those in charge waged war because of this consequences, or even considered them beforehand. – Thern Sep 6 '18 at 11:26

From whose point of view? Certainly the groups that start wars must think it's good for something: acquiring territory, spreading their religion, getting rid of that annoying ethnic group you share your country with, &c.

Likewise the groups that the first bunch make war on must think it's better to fight a defensive war than to passively be conquered, converted, or exterminated.

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  • I think most wars have been started when the government tells their people they have to engage in wars to protect their people’s freedoms. – user22226 Sep 3 '18 at 11:48

The question is very broad, but the short answer is yes, wars can and have resulted in good outcomes.

There is also the dimension on war technology which has brought countless benefits to society in peace time.

BTW. You can check out The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (Princeton Economic History of the Western World) by Walter Scheidel which looks a the issue deeper than any post on this site could ever do.

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    Welcome to our site! Answers here are expected to be factual answers to questions, and not personal opinions. Maybe you could summarize the arguments of the Scheidel book in your answer? – indigochild Sep 6 '18 at 14:53