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date: 16 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

International organizations (IOs) such as the United Nations play an important role in war prevention. In theory, IOs reduce the risk of war between belligerents by improving communication, facilitating cooperation, and building confidence and trust. In practice, however, IOs’ war-preventing capacities have sparked skepticism and criticism. Recent advances in the scholarly study of the causes of war have given rise to new and promising directions in research on IOs and war prevention. These studies highlight the problems of interstate and intrastate wars, global and regional organizations, preventive diplomacy and peacekeeping, and the relationship between IOs and domestic institutions. They also offer novel insights that both complement and challenge studies of traditional concepts such as collective security. An interesting work is that of J. D. Fearon, who frames war as a bargaining process between rational states. Fearon articulates a central puzzle of international relations: since war is costly, the question that arises is why rational leaders of competing states choose to fight instead of pursuing less costly, nonviolent dispute settlements. Three general mechanisms account for rational, unitary states’ inability to identify an alternative outcome that both would prefer to war: bluffing about private information, commitment problems, and indivisibility of stakes. Despite the obvious progress in research on IOs and war prevention, there remain methodological and theoretical issues that deserve consideration for further investigation, two of which are: the interaction of domestic and international organizations, and the implications of variations in IO design.

Keywords: international organizations, United Nations, war prevention, war, preventive diplomacy, peacekeeping, domestic institutions, collective security, J. D. Fearon, bargaining

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