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War and Peace. Bargaining and War. The Puzzle. War is an extremely costly way for states to settle their disputes. Given the human and material costs of military conflict, why do states sometimes wage war rather than resolve their disputes through negotiations?

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war and peace

War and Peace

Bargaining and War

the puzzle
The Puzzle
  • War is an extremely costly way for states to settle their disputes. Given the human and material costs of military conflict, why do states sometimes wage war rather than resolve their disputes through negotiations?
    • Countries have conflicts of interest all the time.
    • Only some disputes are resolved by force.
a domestic analogy
A Domestic Analogy
  • Why are most civil disputes settled out of court?
    • Both sides can predict reasonably well the “damages” that might be awarded.
    • Lawyers, and especially court time, are enormously expensive.
    • To save the costs of “going to trial,” most disputes are settled earlier rather than later in the process.
another domestic analogy
Another Domestic Analogy
  • Why are most union contracts negotiated without a strike?
    • Prevailing wages in area are generally well known.
    • Strikes are costly to both workers and owners.
    • Both sides have an interest in reaching an amicable settlement.
the insight
The Insight
  • As long as war is costly, some bargain must exist that both sides would prefer to actually fighting.
  • If so, war can only arise as a result of some “bargaining failure.”
the bargaining theory of war
The Bargaining Theory of War

A’s share of territory from deal at X

B’s share of territory from deal at X




B’s ideal point

A’s ideal point

x = any bargain

the bargaining theory of war7
The Bargaining Theory of War

Deals that A prefers to war

Deals that B

prefers to war

Bargaining range: deals that both prefer to war

B’s ideal point




A’s ideal point

If q in this range, A has incentive to challenge

If q in this range, neither has incentive to challenge

If q in this range, B has incentive to challenge

p = probability of victory; a and b = costs of war; q = status quo

bargaining failures arise from
Bargaining Failures arise from
  • Incomplete information.
  • Problems of credible commitment.
  • Indivisibilities.
  • Bargaining model assumes that all issues are easily divided into increments.
  • If issues are indivisible, there may not be possible divisions that lie within the bargaining space.
    • Jerusalem claimed as a capital and holy city by several groups and faiths.
  • Yet, virtually all issues are divisible in practice, especially if we allow sidepayments.
incomplete information
Incomplete Information
  • States can be uncertain about each other’s willingness to fight.
    • Disagree about the probability of victory (p)
    • Disagree about the costs of fighting (a or b)
  • Problem of credibility: if states are uncertain, why can’t they just tell each other about their capabilities and resolve?
    • Costly signals: brinksmanship or risk.
    • Tying hands: increasing the costs of “backing down.”
  • But states possess incentives to misrepresent or bluff.
iraq war information problem 1
Iraq War: Information Problem #1
  • U.S. believed that it would replay Persian Gulf War, which it did in the drive to Baghdad.
  • Iraq innovated, however, planning a guerilla war led by Fedayeen. Could not reveal this to the U.S. because it would vitiate the strategy.
  • U.S. erred in not anticipating that Iraq would attempt to correct for its mistakes in 1991.
iraq war information problem 2
Iraq War: Information Problem #2
  • Iraq depended on its WMD to deter attacks from Iran and domestic rebellion.
  • Dismantled its WMD programs under U.N. pressure, but tried to hide this fact so as not to undermine its deterrent. Even few Iraqi generals knew.
  • Hussein was more worried about regional and domestic threats than about the U.S. Could not truthfully reveal the state of WMD programs.
problems of commitment
Problems of Commitment
  • Commitment problems arise when states cannot credibly promise not to use force.
  • Promises are credible only when it is in the self-interest of actors to carry them out.
  • Commitment problems likely when:
    • bargaining over issues that affect future power
    • power is changing exogenously
    • there are first strike advantages
iraq war commitment problem
Iraq War: Commitment Problem
  • Given the shift in bargaining leverage that would arise if Iraq’s WMD programs came to fruition, and Hussein’s continuing efforts to misrepresent those programs, U.S. decided to wage preventive war against Iraq.
    • Compared to Clinton administration, Bush team more skeptical about Hussein.
    • 9/11 revealed consequences of rogue states with WMD.
    • Very little Hussein could have done by fall 2002 to convince the Bush administration that it would not develop WMD at some future date.
peace is more likely when
Peace is more likely when
  • War is costly (or mechanisms exist that make war more costly).
  • More information is available (or mechanisms exist that make states more transparent).
  • Commitments are credible (or mechanisms exist that enhance credibility).