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Diplomatic Calculus in Anarchy: How Communication Matters


When states come to believe that other states are hostile to their interests, they often reorient their foreign policies by realigning alliance commitments, building arms, striking first, mobilizing troops, or adopting policies to drain the resources of states that menace them. This article presents a crisis bargaining model that allows threatened states a wider array of responses than the choice to back down or not. Two implications are that (1) “cheap talk” diplomatic statements by adversaries can affect perceptions of intentions, and (2) war can occur because resolved states decline to communicate their intentions, even though they could, and even though doing so would avoid a war. The model relates the content and quality of diplomatic signals to the context of prior beliefs about intentions and strategic options. In simulations, this form of diplomatic communication reduces the likelihood of conflict.

Corresponding author
Robert F. Trager is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of California at Los Angeles, 4289 Bunche Hall, Box 951472, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472 (
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American Political Science Review
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