Summary and Keywords
Studying the initial steps of the militarized conflict process may help to better uncover regularized patterns that produce dangerous encounters and decision processes in world politics. An understanding of armed conflict short of war is essential if the international community hopes to prevent conflict escalation and contagion. Interstate war is increasingly viewed as the outcome of a complex decision-making process rather than of a single policy choice that commits a nation from peace to war. In this vein, examining lower-level violent conflict offers three immediate benefits. First, it increases the number of observations for empirical analysis. The second reason for is that wars typically begin as nonviolent disagreements over contentious issues. Third, examining low-level militarized conflict helps avoid, or at least helps to minimize, selection effects. In addition, recent scholarship on foreign policy decision making resulting in violent interstate conflict goes in two very different and possibly incompatible directions. First, theoretical and empirical attention to enduring rivalry suggests that lasting perceptions of threat between states establish an environment of mistrust and fear, which inhibits the resolution of contentious issues. A second research program defines the use of force as part of a larger bargaining process over the allocation of scarce resources.
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