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Be careful what you wish for: War aims and the construction of postwar political orders


  • Bruce Cronin

    (Department of Political Science, City College of New York,


Most theories that seek to explain the relationship between major war and the creation of new political orders posit a direct link between the interests of the winning states and the type of order that emerges. We tend to assume that since most wars are fought for specific purposes and a defined goal, the aftermath of the conflict will reflect the interests and preferences of the winning parties. This article challenges this approach, arguing that the necessity of securing public support and winning allies forces states to make public commitments for a postwar reconstruction that they might otherwise avoid. During the course of the war, states unintentionally limit their options for the postwar reconstruction by publicly articulating a set of ‘war aims’ that are designed to rally public support and win over potential allies. Since war aims are as much statements of propaganda as of policy they often do not reflect the state interest per se. However, once articulated, they become the official policy of the coalition, and political leaders are forced to implement their principles as the foundation for the new order.

Suggested Citation

  • Bruce Cronin, 2010. "Be careful what you wish for: War aims and the construction of postwar political orders," Journal of Peace Research, Peace Research Institute Oslo, vol. 47(6), pages 791-801, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:joupea:v:47:y:2010:i:6:p:791-801

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    Cited by:

    1. Armey, Laura E. & McNab, Robert M., 2012. "Democratization and civil war," MPRA Paper 42460, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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