Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-vcb8f Total loading time: 0.283 Render date: 2022-09-25T15:18:29.025Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

War as a Commitment Problem

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2006

Robert Powell
Affiliation:
University of California, Berkeley, rpowell@socrates.berkeley.edu
Get access

Abstract

Although formal work on war generally sees war as a kind of bargaining breakdown resulting from asymmetric information, bargaining indivisibilities, or commitment problems, most analyses have focused on informational issues. But informational explanations and the models underlying them have at least two major limitations: they often provide a poor account of prolonged conflict, and they give an odd reading of the history of some cases. This article describes these limitations and argues that bargaining indivisibilities should really be seen as commitment problems. The present analysis then shows that a common mechanism links three important kinds of commitment problem: (1) preventive war, (2) preemptive attacks arising from first-strike or offensive advantages, and (3) conflicts resulting from bargaining over issues that affect future bargaining power. In each case, large, rapid shifts in the distribution of power can lead to war. Finally, the analysis elaborates a distinctly different mechanism based on a comparison of the cost of deterring an attack on the status quo with the expected cost of trying to eliminate the threat to the status quo.For helpful comments and criticisms, I thank James Fearon, Hein Goemans, Lisa Martin, Sebastian Mazzuca, Branislav Slantchev, and seminar participants at the University of Montreal–McGill Research Group in International Security, the Institute in Mathematical Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Irvine, and University of California, Santa Barbara. I also gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (SES-0315037).

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 2006 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

REFERENCES

Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2000. Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality and Growth in Historical Perspective. Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (4):116799.Google Scholar
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2001. A Theory of Political Transitions. American Economic Review 91 (4):93863.Google Scholar
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2004. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Unpublished manuscript, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Alesina, Alberto, and Guido Tabellini. 1990. A Positive Theory of Fiscal Deficits and Government Debt. Review of Economic Studies 57 (3):40314.Google Scholar
Aster, Sidney. 1973. 1939: The Making of the Second World War. London: Andre Deutsch.
Ausubel, Lawrence, and Raymond Deneckere. 1989. Reputation in Bargaining and Durable Goods Monopoly. Econometrica 57 (3):51131.Google Scholar
Bennett, D. Scott, and Alan Stam. 1996. The Duration of Interstate Wars, 1816–1985. American Political Science Review 90 (2):23957.Google Scholar
Besley, Timothy, and Stephen Coate. 1998. Sources of Inefficiency in a Representative Democracy. American Economic Review 88 (1):13956.Google Scholar
Bolton, Patrick, and Mathias Dewatripont. 2005. Contract Theory. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Busch, Lutz-Alexander, and Abhinay Muthoo. 2002. Power and Inefficient Institutions. Unpublished manuscript, University of Essex, England. Available at 〈privatewww.essex.ac.uk/∼muthoo/agenda.pdf〉. Accessed 24 September 2005.
Chiozza, Gaicomo, and Hein Goemans. 2004. International Conflict and the Tenure of Leaders: Is War Still Ex Post Inefficient? American Journal of Political Science 48 (3):60419.Google Scholar
de Figueiredo, Rui. 2002. Electoral Competition, Political Uncertainty, and Policy Insulation. American Political Science Review 96 (2):32133.Google Scholar
Documents on German Foreign Policy (DGFP). 1949–64. Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918–1945, series D (1937–1945), Vols. 1–14. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Fearon, James D. 1995. Rationalist Explanations for War. International Organization 49 (3):379414.Google Scholar
Fearon, James D. 1996. Bargaining over Objects the Influence Future Bargaining Power. Unpublished manuscript, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. Available at 〈www.stanford.edu/∼jfearon/papers/booifbp.pdf〉. Accessed 1 September 2005.
Fearon, James D. 1998. Commitment Problems and the Spread of Ethnic Conflict. In The International Spread of Ethnic Conflict, edited by David A Lake and Donald Rothschild, 10726. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Fearon, James D. 2004. Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer than Others? Journal of Peace Research 41 (3):275301.Google Scholar
Filson, Darren, and Suzanne Werner. 2002. A Bargaining Model of War and Peace. American Journal of Political Science 46 (4):81938.Google Scholar
Gaddis, John. 1982. Strategies of Containment. New York: Oxford University Press.
Goddard, Stacie. 2005. Uncommon Ground: Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy. Center of International Studies Working Paper. Los Angeles: University of Southern California. Available at 〈http://www.usccis.org/pages/3018/2004/05_academic_year.htm〉. Accessed 24 September 2005.
Goemans, Hein. 2000. War and Punishment: The Causes of War Termination and the First World War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Gul, Faruk, and Hugo Sonnenschein. 1988. On Delay in Bargaining with One-Sided Uncertainty. Econometrica 56 (3):60111.Google Scholar
Halder, Franz. 1988. The Halder War Diary 1939–1942. Charles Burdick and Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, eds. Novato, Calif.: Presidio Press.
Hassner, Ron. 2003. “To Have and to Hold,” Security Studies 12 (4):133.Google Scholar
Hassner, Ron. 2004. “The Path to Indivisibility,” Unpublished manuscript, University of California, Berkeley.
Hirshleifer, Jack. 2001. The Dark Side of the Force: Economic Foundations of Conflict Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1978. Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma. World Politics 30 (2):167214.Google Scholar
Kydd, Andrew. 2003. Which Side Are You on? Bias, Credibility, and Mediation. American Journal of Political Science 47 (4):597611.Google Scholar
Lukacs, John. 1976. The Last European War, September 1939–December 1941. London: Routledge.
Martel, Gordon. 1999. The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: A J P Taylor and the Historians. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
Olsson, Ola, and Heather C. Fors. 2004. Congo: The Prize of Predation. Journal of Peace Research 41 (3):32136.Google Scholar
Parker, R. A. C. 1993. Chamberlain and Appeasement. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Persson, Torsten, and Lars Svensson. 1989. Why a Stubborn Conservative Would Run a Deficit: Policy with Time-Inconsistent Preferences. Quarterly Journal of Economics 104 (2):32545.Google Scholar
Persson, Torsten, and Guido Tabellini. 2000. Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Powell, Robert. 1993. Guns, Butter, and Anarchy. American Political Science Review 87 (1):11532.Google Scholar
Powell, Robert. 1996a. Bargaining in the Shadow of Power. Games and Economic Behavior 15 (2):25589.Google Scholar
Powell, Robert. 1996b. Stability and the Distribution of Power. World Politics 48 (2):23967.Google Scholar
Powell, Robert. 1999. In the Shadow of Power: States and Strategies in International Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Powell, Robert. 2002. Bargaining Theory and International Conflict. Annual Review of Political Science 5 (June):130.Google Scholar
Powell, Robert. 2004a. Bargaining and Learning While Fighting. American Journal of Political Science 48 (2):34461.Google Scholar
Powell, Robert. 2004b. The Inefficient Use of Power: Costly Conflict with Complete Information. American Political Science Review 98 (2):23141.Google Scholar
Rajan, Raghuram G., and Luigi Zingales. 2000. The Tyranny of Inequality. Journal of Public Economics 76 (3):52158.Google Scholar
Rich, Norman. 1973. Hitler's War Aims: Ideology, the Nazi State, and the Course of Expansion. London: Andre Deutsch.
Rich, Norman. 1974. Hitler's War Aims: The Establishment of the New Order. London: Andre Deutsch.
Robinson, James. 2003. When Is a State Predatory? Unpublished manuscript, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
Rubinstein, Ariel. 1982. Perfect Equilibrium in a Bargaining Model. Econometrica 50 (1):97110.Google Scholar
Schelling, Thomas C. 1960. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Schwarz, Michael, and Konstantin Sonin. 2003. Conflicts and Commitments. Unpublished manuscript, New Economic School, Moscow.
Slantchev, Branislav. 2003a. The Power to Hurt: Costly Conflict with Completely Informed States. American Political Science Review 97 (1):12335.Google Scholar
Slantchev, Branislav. 2003b. The Principle of Convergence in Wartime Negotiations. American Political Science Review 97 (4):62132.Google Scholar
Slantchev, Branislav. 2004a. How Initiators End Their Wars: The Duration of Warfare and the Terms of Peace. American Journal of Political Science 48 (4):81329.Google Scholar
Slantchev, Branislav. 2004b. Military Coercion in Interstate Crises and the Price of Peace. Unpublished manuscript, University of California, San Diego. Available at: 〈http://dss.ucsd.edu/∼bslantch/published/pdf/bs003w00B.pdf〉. Accessed 1 September 2005.
Sontag, Raymond. 1971. A Broken World, 1919–1939. New York: Harper & Row.
Taylor, A. J. P. 1962. The Origins of the Second World War. New York: Atheneum.
Taylor, Telford. 1979. Munich: The Price of Peace. New York: Doubleday.
Thorne, Christopher, ed. 1967. The Approach of War, 1938–1939. London: Macmillan.
Toft, Monica. 2002/2003. Indivisible Territory, Geographic Concentration, and Ethnic War. Security Studies 12 (2):82119.Google Scholar
Trevor-Roper, H. R., ed. 1964. Hitler's War Directives, 1939–45. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Waddington, G. T. 1996. Hassgegner: German Views of Great Britain in the Later 1930s. History 81 (261):2237.Google Scholar
Wagner, R. Harrison. 2000. Bargaining and War. American Journal of Political Science 44 (3):46984.Google Scholar
Wagner, R. Harrison. 2004. War and the State. Unpublished manuscript, University of Texas, Austin.
Waltz, Kenneth. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Watt, Donald C. 1989. How War Came: The Immediate Origins of the Second World War, 1938–1939. New York: Pantheon.
Weinberg, Gerhard. 1970. The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Diplomatic Revolution in Europe, 1933–36. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weinberg, Gerhard. 1980. The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany: Starting World War II, 1937–39. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Werner, Suzanne. 2000. Deterring Intervention: The Stakes of War and Third Party Involvement. American Journal of Political Science 44 (4):72032.Google Scholar
Wheatley, Ronald. 1958. Operation Sea Lion: German Plans for the Invasion of England, 1939–1942. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wittman, Donald. 1979. How a War Ends: A Rational Model Approach. Journal of Conflict Resolution 23 (4):74363.Google Scholar
405
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

War as a Commitment Problem
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

War as a Commitment Problem
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

War as a Commitment Problem
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *