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Uncertainty, Shifting Power, and Appeasement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Robert Powell*
University of California, Berkeley


Great Britain faced an immensely complicated strategic problem in the 1930s, and important aspects of it can be stylized as a situation in which a state that is declining in power is unsure of the aims of a rising state. If those aims are limited, then the declining state prefers to appease the rising state's demands rather than go to war to oppose them. If, however, the rising state's demands are unlimited, then the declining state prefers fighting. And, given that the declining state is becoming weaker over time, it prefers fighting sooner rather than later if there is to be a war. This situation creates a trade-off: The earlier a state stands firm, the stronger it will be if war ensues, but the higher the chance of fighting an unnecessary war. In equilibrium, the declining state generally tries to appease the rising state by making a series of concessions.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 1996

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