Skip to main content Accessibility help

Bargaining over power: when do shifts in power lead to war?

  • Thomas Chadefaux (a1)

Students of international relations have long argued that large and rapid shifts in relative power can lead to war. But then why does the rising state not alleviate the concerns of the declining one by reducing its expected future power, so that a commitment problem never emerges? For example, states often limit their ability to launch preemptive attacks by creating demilitarized zones, or they abandon armament programs to avoid preventive wars. In a model of complete information, I show that shifts in power never lead to war when countries can negotiate over the determinants of their power. If war occurs, then, it must be that negotiations over power are impossible or too costly. I then show how third parties, domestic politics, and problems of fungibility can increase the costs of such negotiations, and hence lead to war, even under complete information.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Acemoglu, Daron, Robinson, James. 2000. “Why Did the West Extend the Franchise? Democracy, Inequality and Growth in Historical Perspective.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 115(4):11671199.
Biddle, Stephen. 2004. Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bijian, Zheng. 2005. “China's ‘Peaceful Rise’ to Great-Power Status.” Foreign Affairs 84(5):1824.
Buell, Raymond. 1922. The Washington Conference, New York, NY: Appleton and Company.
Coutau-Bégarie, Hervé. 1995. Le Désarmement Naval. Paris: Economica.
DiCicco, Jonathan M., Levy, Jack S.. 1999. “Power Shifts and Problem Shifts: The Evolution of the Power Transition Research Program.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 43(6):675704.
Fearon, James. 1995. “Rationalist Explanations for War.” International Organization 49(3):379414.
Fearon, James. 1996. “Bargaining Over Objects that Influence Future Bargaining Power.” Annual meeting of the APSA, Washington, DC.
Ferguson, Niall. 1999. The Pity of War: Explaining World War I, London: Penguin Books.
Ferguson, Niall. 2006. The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, London: Penguin Books.
Fuerst, Philipp. 2009. “Preventing Preventive Wars with Signals of Reassurance.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.
Gilpin, Robert. 1981. War and Change in World Politics, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Goddard, Stacie E. 2006. “Uncommon Ground: Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy.” International Organization 60(1):3568.
Haggard, S., Kaufman, R.R.. 1995. The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hartzell, Caroline A. 1999. “Explaining the Stability of Negotiated Settlements to Intrastate Wars.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 43(1):322.
Hoddie, Matthew, Hartzell, Caroline. 2003. “Civil War Settlements and the Implementation of Military Power-Sharing Arrangements.” Journal of Peace Research 40(3): 303320.
Hoge, James F. 2004. “A Global Power Shift in the Making.” Foreign Affairs 83(4):27.
Joll, James. 1992. The Origins of the First World War, London: Longman.
Kaplan, Herbert. 1962. The First Partition of Poland. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Kim, Woosang. 1992. “Power Transitions and Great Power War from Westphalia to Waterloo.” World Politics 45(1):153172.
Kydd, Andrew. 2005. Trust and Mistrust in International Relations, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kydland, Finn E., Prescott, Edward C.. 1977. “Rules Rather than Discretion: The Inconsistency of Optimal Plans.” Journal of Political Economy 85(3):473492.
Lamb, Christopher. 1988. How to Think About Arms Control, Disarmament, and Defense, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mansfield, E.D., Milner, H.V., Rosendorff, B.P.. 2002. “Why Democracies Cooperate More: Electoral Control and International Trade Agreements.” International Organization 56(03):477513.
Masson, Philippe. 1981. Histoire de la Marine – Tome I: L’ère de la voile, Paris: Charles Lavauzelle.
Maurer, J.H. 1992. “The Anglo-German Naval Rivalry and Informal Arms Control, 1912–1914.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 36(2):284.
McKercher, B.J.C. 1990. Anglo-American Relations in the 920's: The Struggle for Supremacy, Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press.
Mearsheimer, John J. 2006. “China's Unpeaceful Rise.” Current History 105(690):160.
Morrow, James D., Kim, Woosang. 1992. “When Do Power Shifts Lead to War?American Journal of Political Science 36(4):896922.
North, Douglass C., Weingast, Barry R.. 1989. “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England.” Journal of Economic History 49(4):803832.
Organski, Abramo F.K. 1958. World Politics, New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Powell, Robert. 1999. In the Shadow of Power: States and Strategies in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Powell, Robert. 2004. “The Inefficient Use of Power.” American Political Science Review 98(2):231241.
Powell, Robert. 2006. “War as a Commitment Problem.” International Organization 60(1):169203.
Reiter, Dan. 1995. “Exploding the Powder Keg Myth: Preemptive Wars Almost Never Happen.” International Security 20(2):534.
Reiter, Dan. 2009. How Wars End. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rosecrance, R.N. 2000. The Rise of the Virtual State: Wealth and Power in the Coming Century, New york, NY: Basic Books.
Roskill, Stephen. 1968. Naval Policy Between the Wars: Vol. I – The Period of Anglo-American Antagonism, 1919–1929, London: Collins.
Roskill, Stephen. 1976. Naval Policy Between the Wars: Vol. II – The Period of Reluctant Rearmament, 1930–1939, London: Collins.
Russett, B. 1990. Economic Decline, Electoral Pressure, and the Initiation of Interstate Conflict. In Prisoners of War? Nation States in the Modern Era, edited by Charles S. Gochman and Alan Ned Sabrosky, 123140, Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Co.
Seymour, Charles. 1926. The Intimate Papers of Colonel House. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Smith, Alastair,, Stam, Allan. 2001. “Issues, Stakes and the Nature of War.” Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, CA.
Stoessinger, John G. 2001. Why Nations Go to War, 8th ed.New York, NY: St. Martin's Press.
Taylor, Allan J.P. 1954. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848–1918. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Thucydides. 1984. The Peloponnesian War, New York, NY: Penguin.
Toft, Monica. 2003. “Indivisible Territory, Geographic Concentration, and Ethnic War.” Security Studies 12(2):82119.
Tuchman, Barbara. 1994. The Guns of August, New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Vagts, Alfred. 1956. Defense and Diplomacy: The Soldier and the Conduct of Foreign Relations, New York, NY: Kings Crown.
Van Evera, Stephen. 1999. Causes of War, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Wagner, Robert Harrison. 2007. War and the State: the Theory of International Politics. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI.
Walter, Barbara. 2000. “Explaining the Apparent Indivisibility of Territory.” Paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Washington, DC.
Walter, Barbara. 2002. Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wolford, Scott. 2007. “The Turnover Trap: New Leaders, Reputation, and International Conflict.” American Journal of Political Science 51(4):772788.
Wolford, Scott, Reiter, Dan, Carrubba, C.. 2011. “Information, Commitment, and War.” Journal of Conflict Resolution (Forthcoming).
Recommend this journal

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

International Theory
  • ISSN: 1752-9719
  • EISSN: 1752-9727
  • URL: /core/journals/international-theory
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