Skip to main content Accessibility help

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 (


Hide All
Axelrod, R. 1970. Conflict of Interest: A Theory of Divergent Goals with Applications to Politics. Chicago, Markham.
Banks, J. S. 1990. “Equilibrium Behavior in Crisis Bargaining Games.” American Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 599614.
Bismarck, O. F. v. 1915. Gedanken und Erinnerungen. Berlin: J. G. Cotta'sche Buchhandlung Nachfolger.
Bratman, M. E. 1999. Intentions, Plans, and Practical Reason. New York: Center for the Study of Language and Inference.
Chen, Y., Kartik, N., and Sobel, J.. 2008. “Selecting Cheap-talk Equilibria.” Econometrica 76 (1): 117–36.
Crawford, V. P., and Sobel, J.. 1982. “Strategic Information Transmission.” Econometrica 50 (6): 1431–51.
Der Derian, J. 1987. On Diplomacy: A Geneology of Western Estrangement. New York: Blackwell.
Farrell, J., and Gibbons, R.. 1989. “Cheap Talk Can Matter in Bargaining.” Journal of Economic Theory 48 (June): 221–37.
Farrell, J., and Rabin, M.. 1996. “Cheap Talk.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 10 (3): 103–18.
Fearon, J. D. 1994. “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes.” American Political Science Review 88 (3): 577–92.
Fearon, J. D. 1995. “Rationalist Explanations for War.” International Organization 49 (3): 379414.
Fearon, J. D. 1997. “Signaling Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands versus Sinking Costs.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 41 (1): 6890.
Fearon, J. D. 1998. “Bargaining, Enforcement and International Cooperation.” International Organization 52 (2): 269306.
Feis, H. 1950. The Road to Pearl Harbor. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Finnemore, M., and Sikkink, K.. 1998. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization 52 (Autumn): 887917.
Fursenko, A. A., and Naftali, T. J.. 1999. One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958–1964. London: Pimlico.
George, A. L. 1991. Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Gilligan, T. W., and Krehbiel, K.. 1987. “Collective Decisionmaking and Standing Committees: An Informational Rationale for Restrictive Amendment Procedures.” Journal of Law, Economics and Organization 3 (2): 345–50.
Guisinger, A., and Smith, A.. 2002. “Honest Threats: The Interaction of Reputation and Political Institutions in International Crises.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (2): 175200.
Healy, B., and Stein, A.. 1973. “The Balance of Power in International History: Theory and Reality.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 17 (1): 3361.
Ignatyev, N. 1931. “The Memoirs of Count N. Ignatyev.” Slavonic Review 10: 386407; 627–40.
Jervis, R. 1970. The Logic of Images in International Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.
Jervis, R. 1976. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jervis, R. 1984. “Deterrence and Perception.” In Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence, ed. Miller, S., Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 5784.
Jervis, R. 2001. “Was the Cold War a Security Dilemma?Journal of Cold War Studies 3 (1): 3660.
Kurizaki, S. 2007. “Efficient Secrecy: Public versus Private Threats in Crisis Diplomacy.” American Political Science Review 101 (3): 543–58.
Kydd, A. 1997. “Game theory and the Spiral Model.” World Politics 49 (3): 371400.
Kydd, A. 2003. “Which Side Are You on? Bias, Credibility, and Mediation.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (4): 597611.
Kydd, A. 2005. Trust and Mistrust in International Relations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
May, E. R., and Zelikow, P. D.. 2002. The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Norton.
Mearsheimer, J. J. 2001. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: W. W. Norton.
Mercer, J. 1996. Reputation and International Politics. New York: Cornell University Press.
Morgan, P. M. 2003. Deterrence Now. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Morrow, J. D. 1989. “Capabilities, Uncertainty, and Resolve: A Limited Information Model of Crisis Bargaining.” American Journal of Political Science 33 (4): 941–72.
Morrow, J. D. 1994. “Alliances, Credibility, and Peacetime Costs.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 38: 270–97.
Mosse, W. 1958. The European Powers and the German Question: 1848–71. London: Cambridge University Press.
O'Neill, B. 1999. Honor, Symbols, and War. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Powell, R. 1988. “Nuclear Brinkmanship with Two-Sided Incomplete Information.” American Political Science Review 82 (1): 155–78.
Powell, R. 1990. Nuclear Deterrence Theory: The Problem of Credibility. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Powell, R. 1993. “Guns, Butter and Anarchy.” American Political Science Review 87 (1): 115–32.
Press, D. G. 2005. Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats. New York: Cornell University Press.
Ramsay, K. W. 2004. “Politics at the Water's Edge: Crisis Bargaining and Electoral Competition.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 (4): 459–86.
Rich, N. 1965. Why the Crimean War? A Cautionary Tale. Hanover, NH: University Press for New England.
Ritter, J. M. 2004. “Silent Partners and Other Essays on Alliance Politics.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University.
Rupp, G. H. 1941. A Wavering Friendship: Russia and Austria 1876–1878. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Russett, B. M. 1967. “Pearl Harbor: Deterrence Theory and Decision Theory.” Journal of Peace Research 4 (2): 89106.
Saburov, P. A. 1929. The Saburov Memoirs or Bismarck and Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sartori, A. E. 2002. “The Might of the Pen: A Reputational Theory of Communication in International Disputes.” International Organization 56 (1): 121–49.
Sartori, A. E. 2005. Deterrence by Diplomacy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Schelling, T. C. 1966. Arms and Influence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Schelling, T. C. 1980. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Schultz, K. 1998. “Domestic Opposition and Signaling in International Crises.” American Political Science Review 92 (4):829–44.
Schultz, K. 2001. Democracy and Coercive Diplomacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Schweinitz, H. L. v. 1927. Denkwuerdigeiten des Botschafters General v. Schweinitz, Vol. 1. Berlin: Reimar Hobbing.
Schweller, R. 1998. Deadly Imbalances: Tripolarity and Hitler's Strategy of World Conquest. New York: Columbia University Press.
Schweller, R. L. 1994. “Bandwagoning for Profit: Bringing the Revisionist State back in.” International Security 19 (1): 72107.
Slanchev, B. L. 2005. “Military Coercion in Interstate Crises.” American Political Science Review 99 (4): 533–47.
Slantchev, B. L. n.d. “Feigning Weakness.” International Organization. Forthcoming.
Smith, A. 1998. “International Crises and Domestic Politics.” American Political Science Review 92 (3): 623–38.
Taylor, A. J. P. 1954. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Trager, R. F. 2007. Diplomatic Calculus in Anarchy: The Construction and Consequences of the Space of Intentions. Ph.D. diss., Columbia University.
Walt, S. M. 1987. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Waltz, K. N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. New York: McGraw–Hill.
Waltz, K. N. 2003. “Evaluating Theories.” In Realism and the Balancing of Power, eds. Elman, C. and Vasquez, J. A., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 4957.
Wendt, A. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed