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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, INTERNATIONAL STUDIES ( (c) International Studies Association and Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 20 February 2020

Summary and Keywords

A relatively recent phenomenon in international politics is the study of crisis, which began in the twentieth century, when scholars looked back at two world wars and the interwar period that was shaped by the Great Depression. Today, the challenges to effective crisis prevention and management have become broader and deeper. During the Cold War, leaders were prone to escalate to force in crises over the classic currency of international politics—territory. In the contemporary global system, territorial disputes continue to matter and are most likely to escalate when the land is highly valued for its strategic importance, economic potential, or symbolic significance. An important part of the explanation of crisis escalation, and of an inadvertent slide into wars or violent confrontations, are theories emphasizing “miscalculation” and “misperception.” These theories have been used as a mediating variable between external and domestic attributes, and the way leaders perceive and process information about these factors, and then make choices. However, arguments on “misperception” and “miscalculation” are built on the assumption that accurate perception and calculation are possible. That leaders are “rational” and capable of “accurate” perception and utility-maximizing choices. The challenge lies in the understanding of error and the model of human reason. Research in the last several decades has revolutionized that understanding.

Keywords: crisis prevention, crisis management, international politics, crisis behavior, miscalculation, misperception, territorial disputes

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