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Negotiations broke down and war was declared.

War broke out between the two countries.

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    Pretty much any noun, including “war”, can take a zero article when used in an abstract sense. – StephenS Oct 22 '20 at 14:14
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"War" has several noun definitions, including:

  • a conflict
  • a state of conflict.

Both your examples refer to declarations of war which are a state or situation, which is why they do not require an article.

Consider as an example:

  • Swimming takes place at the pool.

"Swimming" is here used as a noun for the act of swimming. There is no need for an article.

  • You can have a swim at the pool.

"Swim" is also a noun here, but because it refers to a specific swim, an article is used.

Likewise:

  • There is war in the middle east (refers to a current state)
  • There is a war in the middle east (refers to a specific conflict).
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    isn't swimming a gerund? – Yukatan Oct 22 '20 at 15:57
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    @Yukatan Not in my example, but it can be. – Astralbee Oct 22 '20 at 18:55

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