IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/cup/intorg/v60y2006i01p169-203_06.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

War as a Commitment Problem

Author

Listed:
  • Powell, Robert

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).

Suggested Citation

  • Powell, Robert, 2006. "War as a Commitment Problem," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(1), pages 169-203, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:60:y:2006:i:01:p:169-203_06
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://www.cambridge.org/core/product/identifier/S0020818306060061/type/journal_article
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:60:y:2006:i:01:p:169-203_06. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters). General contact details of provider: https://www.cambridge.org/ino .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.