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Why War: The Big Picture Chapter 5. 2 Overview War is inefficient compared to reaching negotiated settlements. Uncertainty, inability to make credible.

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Presentation on theme: "Why War: The Big Picture Chapter 5. 2 Overview War is inefficient compared to reaching negotiated settlements. Uncertainty, inability to make credible."— Presentation transcript:

1 Why War: The Big Picture Chapter 5

2 2 Overview War is inefficient compared to reaching negotiated settlements. Uncertainty, inability to make credible commitments, and disputes revolving around winner-take-all issues exacerbate the risk of war. Neorealism offers a popular structural theory of war, but some of its hypothesis do not logically follow from the theory’s assumptions. Other important neorealist hypotheses are falsified by the historical record. Power transition theory, another popular structural theory of war, is more logically consistent than neorealism, its predictions are more strongly supported by historical evidence. However, even power transition theory has weaknesses and needs to be reconsidered, especially with regard to its approach to domestic politics.

3 3 Introduction War between states is on the decline, but domestic wars, insurrections, and military interventions are becoming more frequent War is a relatively infrequent event, but it remains extraordinarily deadly –Estimates of war-related deaths per year vary from 1 to 2 million War is the most egregious breakdown of international cooperation –Yet states often manage to cooperate during wars –International agreements discipline behavior in war time

4 4 War, Clarity, and Uncertainty Many theories attempt to explain wars –Popular explanations focus on religious, cultural or civilization differences, on economic asymmetries, or on psychological factors The outcomes of war suggest war is premeditated act –Initiators win over 60 percent of the wars they start –93% of democratic initiators win (Reiter and Stam, 2002). –43% of defenders lose, and 11% end up with a draw. Puzzle: Why do defenders not make a deal before enduring the costs of war?

5 5 War, Clarity, and Uncertainty War involves transaction costs in lost life and property and is ex post inefficient –Costs could be avoided if the adversaries could find an ex ante negotiated agreement According to Fearon (1995), the ex ante problems leading to war can be reduced to three factors: 1.Uncertainty (asymmetric information) 2.Commitment problems 3.Indivisibility of issues

6 6 War, Clarity, and Uncertainty Uncertainty –Asymmetric information (or uncertainty) about the opponent’s capabilities, morale, outside help, etc., makes rational actors arrive at different conclusions about what they can win or lose in war Commitment problems –Even if an ex ante settlement can be reached, inability to credibly commit to respect its terms makes an agreement difficult Indivisible issues –Indivisible objectives, such as winning or losing sovereignty, stand in the way of ex ante agreements because the winner gets everything and the loser gets nothing

7 7 War, Clarity, and Uncertainty The conflict between Israeli and Palestinians may well reflects all three of these problems Their dispute can be understood in terms of the same spatial model and expected utilities we used for the North Korea-US nuclear issue

8 8 Realist Theories of War Neorealist theorists believe the distribution of power in the international system is a major factor in determining whether international affairs are stable or unstable. –Instability refers to changes in the composition of the international system, especially when key states emerge or disappear following large wars –Key states (essential actors) are those necessary to counteract a threat from a rival coalition of states. Neorealists are particularly concerned with the causes of big wars that threaten the survival of great powers

9 On reste ici pour l’instant essentiellement dans le cadre d’un acteur rationnel unifié / l’Etat / sans division interne. 9

10 10 Realist Theories of War Recall neorealist theorists start with these assumptions: 1.International politics are anarchic 2.States, as rational unitary actors, are the central actors in international politics 3.States seek to maximize security above all else and consider other factors only if security is satisfied 4.States seek to increase their power as long as doing so does not diminish their security A state’s gain in power may threaten other states and lead them to form an opposing coalition, leaving that state less secure –a phenomenon known as the security dilemma

11 11 Realist Theories of War Neorealists derive three hypotheses about the threat of war or instability: 1.Bipolar systems are more stable than multipolar systems 2.States engage in balancing behavior so that power becomes more or less equally divided among states over time 3.States mimic one another’s behavior

12 12 Bipolarity and Stability Neorealists claim there is more uncertainty in multipolar systems, which makes less stable than bipolar ones –Bipolarity is supposed to alleviate uncertainty and commitment problems Neorealists compare, for example, great power alliances preceding World War I to alliances during the Cold War

13 13 Bipolarity and Stability The ambiguity of re-WWI alliance commitments stands in sharp contrast to the clarity of the Cold War

14 14 Bipolarity and Stability The argument that bipolarity produces less uncertainty does not follow from the four neorealist premises –None of the four hypotheses addresses the relationship between uncertainty and stability –Uncertainty may make decision makers more, not less, cautious –Different leaders may respond differently to uncertainty Multiple distributions of power can occur under multipolarity –Some of them can be stable; others cannot not

15 15 Bipolarity and Stability Using the neorealist logic, it is possible to show that a multipolar world can be more stable than a bipolar one –Suppose there are 300 units of power in world Bipolar world: A = 150, B = 150 is stable (and but very unlikely in reality), but A = 151, B = 149 is unstable Multipolar world I: A = 75, B = 74, C = 75, D = 74, E = 2. E is never expendable. Blocking coalition always gets R/2 = 150 Multipolar world II: A = 78, B = 74, C = 73, D = 73, E = 2. E is an inessential actor –A true balance of power is essential for stability in a bipolar world but not in a multipolar one The first neorealist hypothesis is logically flawed

16 16 Bipolarity and Stability: A Second Look One could object that states cannot be sure of their advantage unless that advantage is very large –Bipolar systems may be stable even when power is not perfectly equally distributed Suppose nation A believes with probability p that it can defeat B –Define p as the ratio of A’s power to the sum of A’s and B’s power (p= a/(a + b)) –A will not attack B if p(U A winning ) + (1 – p)(U A losing ) < U A status quo –Suppose A values winning = 1 and losing = 0

17 17 Bipolarity and Stability: A Second Look Rearranging terms, we find that P > (U A status quo – U A losing )/ (U A winning – U A losing ) Substituting the utility values of 0 and 1 P > (U A status quo – 0)/(1 – 0) This implies that A will not attack B if p  U A status quo and A will attack if p > U A status quo The decision depends on how much A likes or dislike the status quo –States that sufficiently dislike the status quo may still attack even if they are weaker; states the like the status quo may not risk aggression even if they are stronger

18 18 Bipolarity and Stability: A Second Look Imagine A’s power is 60 and B’s is 240, and that U A status quo = 0.1 –p = 60/( ) = 0.2 A prefers to fight even with such a low probability of victory because of its deep dislike for the status quo. These conclusions contradict realist assumptions –Especially the fourth assumption that states pursue increased power only when survival is not at stake –“In anarchy security is the highest end. Only if survival is assured can states safely seek such other goals as tranquility, profit, and power” (Waltz 1979, 126)

19 19 History and Neorealist Empirical Claims Claims about polarity and stability can be evaluated by looking at the relative duration of different international systems –The modern international system began in 1648 and was multipolar until 1945 (297 years) –It was bipolar from 1945 to 1989 (44 years) –It has been unipolar from 1989 to the present Given the duration of the first multipolar system, multipolarity appears more stable than bipolarity

20 20 History and Neorealist Empirical Claims It is also possible to look at the duration of time periods in which the number of major powers remained unchanged The bipolar system was neither unusually long nor short

21 21 History and Neorealist Empirical Claims It is possible to assess system stability by examining the frequency of wars between major powers –Excluding proxy wars and the Korean war (the US and China fought), there were no major power wars during the cold war –There are several alternative explanations to this “long peace” –especially nuclear deterrence Looking at intervals between major power wars since 1648, the Cold War 44 years of peace is not an unusually long period

22 22 Other Neorealist Hypotheses and the Historical Record Niou and colleagues (1989) identify four more central conclusions based on neorealist assumptions 1.Essential states never become inessential 2.Essential states are never eliminated Austria-Hungary and the Soviet Union were essential, but became inessential and were eliminated from the international system 3.Inessential states never become essential 4.Inessential states are always eliminated United States was inessential in the nineteenth century, and today it is an essential player

23 23 Power Transition Theory Shares with realism the focus on the importance of power in international affairs Breaks with balance-of-power by arguing that the international system is not anarchic, but hierarchical It assumes that states seek to maximize preferred policies and control over rules and customs governing international interactions States differ in their satisfaction with the status quo The most powerful dissatisfied states are the greatest threat to peace and stability System-transforming conflicts occur when a dissatisfied state gains enough power to challenge the status quo

24 Power Transition Theory The international hierarchy according to power transition theory 24

25 Power Transition Theory Power transition is consistent with Robert Gilpin’s (1981) hegemonic stability The dominant state imposes and enforces rules and norms that govern international politics –E.g., after WWII, the US promoted the Bretton Woods agreement, the current free-trade regime, NATO, and the United Nations 25

26 Dissatisfaction, the Status Quo, and War Conflict arises when a dissatisfied state grows strong enough to challenge the authority of the hegemon –It is unlikely for the dominant state to allow the challenger to supersede it in power –A challenger is reluctant to fight before it has sufficient power to win –Contrary to neorealism, power transition argues that rough parity in power (balance of power) promotes conflict To some extent, power transition focuses our attention on domestic politics –It argues that the challenger emerges as a result of differential growth rates 26

27 Dissatisfaction, the Status Quo, and War The main hypothesis of power transition and war is as 27

28 Dissatisfaction, the Status Quo, and War Not all predictions of power transition logically follow from the theory However, the historical record is more consistent with this perspective 28


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