The Triggers of War: Disentangling the Spark from the Powder Keg

42 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2014 Last revised: 29 Apr 2015

See all articles by Thomas Chadefaux

Thomas Chadefaux

Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 28, 2015


The onset of interstate conflict often hinges on seemingly random events ('sparks') such as the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand in 1914. However, the literature on the causes of interstate war has mostly focused on identifying fertile grounds ('powder kegs'), ignoring these intricacies of history that are typically treated as noise. Yet this approach cannot explain why certain fertile grounds remain peaceful, or why wars start precisely when and where they do. Here, we measure and demonstrate the importance of these idiosyncratic factors with information about sparks from three different sources: a) one hundred years of newspaper articles; b) two hundred years of government bond yields; and c) fine-grained event-data. All these measures of triggers significantly improved our ability to explain and predict conflict. In particular, we found that fertile grounds or the occurrence of a trigger are both prone to conflict, but it is their combination that is disproportionately dangerous.

Keywords: International Conflict, War, News, Government Bonds, Prediction, Triggers

Suggested Citation

Chadefaux, Thomas, The Triggers of War: Disentangling the Spark from the Powder Keg (April 28, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Chadefaux (Contact Author)

Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science ( email )

College Green 2-3
Dublin 2


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