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Article

Empirically Assessing the Bargaining Theory of War: Potential and Challenges  

Erik A. Gartzke and Paul Poast

What explains war? The so-called bargaining approach has evolved quickly in the past two decades, opening up important new possibilities and raising fundamental challenges to previous conventional thinking about the origins of political violence. Bargaining is intended to explain the causes of conflict on many levels, from interpersonal to international. War is not the product of any of a number of variables creating opportunity or willingness, but instead is caused by whatever factors prevent competitors from negotiating the settlements that result from fighting. Conflict is thus a bargaining failure, a socially inferior outcome, but also a determined choice. Embraced by a growing number of scholars, the bargaining perspective rapidly created a new consensus in some circles. Bargaining theory is radical in relocating at least some of the causes of conflict away from material, cultural, political, or psychological factors and replacing them with states of knowledge about these same material or ideational factors. Approaching conflict as a bargaining failure—produced by uncertainty and incentives to misrepresent, credible commitment problems, or issue indivisibility—is the “state of the art” in the study of conflict. At the same time, bargaining theories remain largely untested in any systematic sense: theory has moved far ahead of empirics. The bargaining perspective has been favored largely because of compelling logic rather than empirical validity. Despite the bargaining analogy’s wide-ranging influence (or perhaps because of this influence), scholars have largely failed to subject the key causal mechanisms of bargaining theory to systematic empirical investigation. Further progress for bargaining theory, both among adherents and in the larger research community, depends on empirical tests of both core claims and new theoretical implications of the bargaining approach. The limited amount of systematic empirical research on bargaining theories of conflict is by no means entirely accident or the product of lethargy on the part of the scholarly community. Tests of theories that involve intangible factors like states of belief or perception are difficult to pursue. How does one measure uncertainty? What does learning look like in the midst of a war? When is indivisibility or commitment a problem, and when can it be resolved through other measures, such as ancillary bargains? The challenge before researchers, however, is to surmount these obstacles. To the degree that progress in science is empirical, bargaining theory needs testing. As should be clear, the dearth of empirical tests of bargaining approaches to the study of conflict leaves important questions unanswered. Is it true, for example, as bargaining theory suggests, that uncertainty leads to the possibility of war? If so, how much uncertainty is required and in what contexts? Which types of uncertainty are most pernicious (and which are perhaps relatively benign)? Under what circumstances are the effects of uncertainty greatest and where are they least critical? Empirical investigation of the bargaining model can provide essential guidance to theoretical work on conflict by identifying insights that can offer intellectual purchase and by highlighting areas of inquiry that are likely to be empirical dead ends. More broadly, the impact of bargaining theory on the study and practice of international relations rests to a substantial degree on the success of efforts to substantiate the perspective empirically.

Article

The Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to Uncertainty and Conflict in International Relations  

Muhammet A. Bas and Robert Schub

Uncertainty is pervasive in international politics. This uncertainty can have many sources. Each source has different origins and implications for the likelihood of conflict. Existing theories focus on three sources: (1) uncertainty due to asymmetric information about adversary traits that affect war payoffs, (2) uncertainty about adversary intentions, and (3) fundamental uncertainty about conflict-relevant processes. Scholarship details the implications of each type of uncertainty for war and peace as well as the prospects for reducing the uncertainty. While theoretical work is quite rich, empirical studies generally lag behind due to measurement challenges and difficulties in specifying clear, testable implications. Nonetheless, using novel proxies for different forms of uncertainty has generated notable progress.

Article

Arms Races: An Assessment of Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges  

Toby J. Rider

An “arms race” is a competition over the quality or quantity of military capabilities between states in the international system. The arms race phenomenon has received considerable attention from scholars over many decades because of the ubiquity, throughout history, of states building arms as a means of deterring enemies, but disagreement persists over whether that policy is effective at avoiding war. The Latin phrase si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “if you want peace, prepare for war,” dates back to the Roman Empire but the sentiment is likely much older. That states should rapidly build up their militaries in the face of potential threats is a common thread that runs through much of the modern international relations scholarship influenced by realism and deterrence theory. Meeting force with force, the logic went, was the only way to ensure the security or survival of the sovereign state. These states faced a paradox, however, best articulated by the “security dilemma.” Anything a state does in the name of defense, like a rapid military buildup, decreases the security of other states and will be viewed with hostile intent. This set up a debate over competing expectations regarding the relationship between arms races and war (peace). On one hand, deterrence theory posits that rapid arming is necessary to raise the cost of an adversary attacking and, consequently, preserves peace. On the other hand, the spiral model argues that the reality of the security dilemma means that arming produces mistrust, hostility and, thus, increases the likelihood of war. Scholars set out to test these competing hypotheses using large data sets and statistical techniques, but there was widespread disagreement on how to measure arms races, appropriate research design, and the statistical findings were somewhat mixed. Critics of this approach to studying arms races note a number of important weaknesses. First, scholars primarily focus on the consequences of arms races—whether they lead to war or peace—at the expense of understanding the causes. Those who advance this position believe that a theory of arms race onset might well inform our understanding of their consequences. Second, security dilemma, taken as the primary motivation for arms races, suffers from significant logical flaws. Third, assessment of the arms race-war relationship consists of comparative theory tests of deterrence theory and spiral model, yet these ideas are underdeveloped and expectations oversimplified. More recently, scholarship has shifted the focus from the consequences of arms races to developing theories and empirical tests of their causes. These efforts have been informed by insights from bargaining models of war, and their application to this context holds promise for better future understanding of both the causes and consequences of arms races.

Article

Bargaining Theory, Civil War Outcomes, and War Recurrence: Assessing the Results of Empirical Tests of the Theory  

Caroline A. Hartzell

Once ended, a significant number of civil wars recur. One influential empirical international relations theory on which scholars have drawn in an effort to provide an explanation for this phenomenon is the bargaining model of war. Devised initially for the study of interstate war, the theory posits that bargaining problems may prevent belligerents from reaching a deal that enables them to avoid a costly war. Bargaining problems also have been identified as contributing to the recurrence of armed intrastate conflict. Working within the framework of bargaining theory, a number of scholars have claimed that the most effective way to inhibit a return to civil war is to end the conflict via military victory as such an outcome is thought to help solve key bargaining problems. However, a growing number of empirical tests cast doubt on this proposition. An analysis of the results of these tests as well as new scholarship on civil war termination highlight some of the limitations inherent in employing a theory devised for the study of interstate war to analyze questions related to civil wars.

Article

Civil War Termination  

Caroline A. Hartzell

Civil wars typically have been terminated by a variety of means, including military victories, negotiated settlements and ceasefires, and “draws.” Three very different historical trends in the means by which civil wars have ended can be identified for the post–World War II period. A number of explanations have been developed to account for those trends, some of which focus on international factors and others on national or actor-level variables. Efforts to explain why civil wars end as they do are considered important because one of the most contested issues among political scientists who study civil wars is how “best” to end a civil war if the goal is to achieve a stable peace. Several factors have contributed to this debate, among them conflicting results produced by various studies on this topic as well as different understandings of the concepts war termination, civil war resolution, peace-building, and stable peace.

Article

Rational Choice Institutionalism and European Integration  

Gerald Schneider and Anastasia Ershova

Rational choice institutionalism (RCI) conceives of European integration as the outcome of three interplaying forces—interests, information, and institutions. Cooperation in the European Union (EU) is thus based on collective choices among a diverse set of actors ranging from voters to member states that disagree over the potential outcome of the decision-making process, are uncertain about the motives and resources of other players, and are exposed to decision-making rules with varying distributional consequences. RCI distinguishes between two fundamental choices the supranational organization can make. EU actors can in this perspective either decide how the EU should be governed (“decision-making about rules”) or how a policy should be changed with the help of a given rule (“decision-making within rules”). The first perspective deals largely with the intergovernmental conferences during which the European Union has changed the rules that structure the interactions among the member states. The latter viewpoint addresses how the relevant decision makers of the European Union have amended or prevented policy changes alone or in collaboration with other actors. Both perspectives draw on the standard assumptions of the rational choice research program that actors engage into means-ends calculations in a consistent way, process new information efficiently, and are aware of the preferences and rationality of other relevant actors. This implies, in the context of EU decision-making, that the adoption of new rules and polices is the consequence of the strategic behavior of those players who possess the power to influence the collective choice. The application of the RCI approach to EU integration has resulted in a multitude of studies seeking to explain its capacity for institutional reform, policy change, or absorption of new members. While the European Parliament, like any other legislature, concludes its deliberations through voting, other EU decision-making bodies mainly decide either through bargaining or through delegating certain tasks to a subordinate actor. RCI has adopted different workhorse models borrowed from game theory to reflect the variety of decision-making modes: the spatial theory of voting, non-cooperative bargaining theory, and principal-agent models have become the standard approaches to study European integration. RCI research has faced several challenges since becoming a mainstream approach in the study of EU decision-making. The first set of criticism focuses on the axiomatic basis of the RCI research program in general and questions its usefulness for understanding the evolution of an organization as complex and large as the EU. Other objections that are frequently raised refer to the empirical tests of the hypotheses derived from the game-theoretic models. Finally, critics of the approach question the ability of the RCI program to deal with the role of informal institutions.

Article

Economic Interdependence and Conflict  

Hyo Joon Chang and Scott L. Kastner

Recent studies on commercial liberalism have paid more attention to microfoundations linking economic interdependence to peace. Using a bargaining model of war, these studies have specified and tested different causal mechanisms through which economic ties function as a constraint, a source of information, or a transformative agent. Recent scholarly efforts in theoretical development and some empirical testing of different causal processes suggest the need to consider scope conditions to see when an opportunity cost or a signaling mechanism is likely to be salient. Future research can be best benefited by focusing on how economic interdependence affects commitment problems and empirically assessing the relative explanatory power of different causal arguments.

Article

Arms Buildups and the Use of Military Force  

David F. Mitchell and Jeffrey Pickering

The empirical literature on arms buildups and the use of interstate military force has advanced considerably over the last half century. Research has largely confirmed that a relationship exists between arms buildups and the subsequent use of force, although it is historically contingent. The relationship seems to have existed in some earlier historical periods but has not been a feature of international politics since 1945. Broader work such as the steps-to-war model brings understanding to such variation by demonstrating how arms races are interrelated with other causes of conflict, such as territorial disputes and alliances. Still, many important dimensions of the arms race–conflict connection remain to be explored. Differences between qualitative and quantitative arms races, for example, have not received sufficient empirical scrutiny. Precise theory also needs to be developed on direct and indirect relationships between arms races and conflict, and such theory requires empirical investigation.

Article

Theories of Civil War Onset: Promises and Pitfalls  

Adrian Florea

Empirical research on civil war onset has been largely dominated by two approaches: a correlational or “correlates of civil war” approach which seeks to identify country-level characteristics associated with a higher likelihood of civil war outbreak, and a bargaining approach which starts from the assumption that warfare is costly and which views civil conflict as a by-product of bargaining failures. Correlational and bargaining studies of internal conflict onset have reached an analytical plateau because they fail to specify the precise mechanisms that yield civil warfare instead of a different type of violent or nonviolent outcome. An alternative, contentious framework is advanced for studying civil war onset. This framework situates the conflict event within a larger cycle of contention and specifies the mechanisms through which civil conflict is most likely to occur. According to this contentious perspective, civil wars are commonly produced by the combination of one structural condition—a state crisis of authority and/or legitimacy—and the interdependent effect of two mechanisms—radicalization and militarization. Through theory development and vignettes from a handful of civil war cases, the article makes the case that the contentious approach holds promise for elucidating how exactly civil conflicts break out. Despite holding initial explanatory power, the contentious theory of civil war onset advanced herein awaits more systematic empirical testing.

Article

Power, Institutions, and Issues as Causes of Conflict  

Michael Masterson and Jessica L. P. Weeks

What do we know about the causes and outcomes of international military conflict? Decades of research from different theoretical traditions have explored the outbreak and conclusion of international conflict from a variety of angles. Broadly speaking, scholarship about international conflict has tended to orbit around three core concepts: power, institutions, and the source of the interstate dispute. The question that remains is how well verified are the most important theories? Three influential theories seek to predict patterns of international conflict: power transition theory, which argues that shifts in power increase the likelihood of war; selectorate theory, which predicts that states that have large winning coalitions are more selective about war; and theories about issue indivisibility and war, which predict that issues that states view as impossible to divide—such as a national homeland—are more likely to lead to conflict. Each of these theories produces specific predictions, allowing an assessment of how well the evidence supports the theories’ main conjectures. Central to understanding the causes of conflict is whether empirical work has tested these three theories using well-validated measures; whether a variety of scholars have tested the core propositions of the theory; and whether scholars have found evidence of the causal mechanisms proposed by each theory. Although each theory has garnered some support, they all fall short on one or more of these criteria. In particular, more work is needed in both measurement and evidence of causal mechanisms before scholars can be confident of the theories’ explanatory power.

Article

Differentiated Integration and European Union Politics  

Frank Schimmelfennig

Differentiated integration has become a core feature of the European Union. Whereas in uniform integration, all member states (and only member states) equally participate in all integrated policies, in differentiated integration, member and non-member states participate in EU policies selectively. At its core, differentiated integration is formally codified in EU treaties and legislation. The study of differentiated integration has long remained limited to policy-oriented conceptual debate. “Multi-speed integration,” “core Europe,” and “Europe à la carte” are prominent labels that have resulted from this debate. Theoretical and systematic empirical analysis of differentiated integration is a more recent phenomenon. Demand for differentiated integration is theorized to be rooted in international diversity of country size, wealth, and national identity, which result in heterogeneity of integration preferences, interdependence, and state capacities. In addition, agreement on differentiated integration depends on the size and bargaining power of the insider and outsider groups, the externalities that differentiation produces, and the institutional context in which negotiations take place. Finally, differentiated integration is subject to centrifugal and centripetal dynamics of path dependence and institutional practice. Evaluations of differentiated integration vary between negative assessments based on the principles of legal unity, European democracy, and solidarity and positive assessments based on demoi-cratic standards and the facilitation of integration. More research is needed on the relationship of differentiated integration with other forms of flexibility in the EU, citizen attitudes, and party positions on differentiated integration and the effects of differentiation.

Article

Intergovernmentalism: Old, Liberal, and New  

Amy Verdun

European integration theories help us understand the actors and mechanisms that drive European integration. Traditionally, European integration scholars used grand theories of integration to explain why integration progresses or stands still. Born out of assumptions that are prevalent in realist international relations theories, intergovernmentalism was first developed as a theory in opposition to neofunctionalism. In a nutshell, intergovernmentalism argues that states (i.e., national governments or state leaders), based on national interests, determine the outcome of integration. Intergovernmentalism was seen as a plausible explanatory perspective during the 1970s and 1980s, when the integration process seemed to have stalled. Despite the fact that it could not explain many of the gradual incremental changes or informal politics, intergovernmentalism—as did various other approaches—gained renewed popularity in the 1990s, following the launch of liberal intergovernmentalism. During that decade, the study of European integration was burgeoning, triggered in part by the aim to complete the single market and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty that launched the European Union (EU). Intergovernmentalism also often received considerable pushback from researchers who were unconvinced by its core predictions. Attempts to relaunch intergovernmentalism were made in the 2010s, in response to the observation that EU member states played a prominent role in dealing with the various crises that the EU was confronted with at that time, such as the financial crisis and the migration crisis. Although intergovernmentalism is unable —and is not suited—to explain all aspects of European integration, scholars revert to intergovernmentalism as a theoretical approach in particular when examining the role of member states in European politics. Outside the EU, in the international arena (such as the United Nations), intergovernmentalism is also observed when studying various forums in which member states come together to bargain over particular collective outcomes in an intergovernmental setting.

Article

Empirical Knowledge on Foreign Military Intervention  

Jeffrey Pickering and David F. Mitchell

While the empirical literature on foreign military intervention has made considerable progress identifying the causes and consequences of military intervention, we still have much to learn about the subject. Mixed and even contradictory results remain common in the literature, and cumulative knowledge has in many instances proven elusive. Arguably the two most prominent theoretical approaches in recent scholarship, the bargaining model and the rivalry approach, have provided important insight into the phenomenon. They would nonetheless benefit from further refinement. Common explanatory variables outside of these two approaches also require further theoretical and empirical development. The literature has recently begun to examine the impact that military intervention has on target societies as well, with particular attention being given to target state democratization, human rights development, and conflict resolution. Empirical research could shed additional light on all of these phenomena by developing more detailed theory and data on intervention targets. It would also profit from incorporating systematic knowledge on leaders’ proclivities to use military force into current theoretical models.

Article

The Presidency of the Council of the European Union  

Frank M. Häge

The Presidency plays a crucial role in the management and organization of the Council of the European Union’s work and the institution’s interactions with third parties. Formally, the Presidency just chairs the meetings of Council bodies; but over time, member states have endowed it with a range of procedural prerogatives to structure the Council’s agenda and broker agreements, which post holders can potentially use to advance their own private interests. The potential for abuse of these powers raises two related questions: first, why would member states grant these powers to the Presidency, and second, is the Presidency actually able to use these powers to advance its own priorities and policy preferences? In response to the first question, functionalist theories suggest that member states delegate powers to the Presidency to reduce transaction costs and solve collective action. According to Tallberg, member states grant the Presidency procedural prerogatives and provide it with administrative resources to ensure an efficient management of the Council’s agenda, avoid inadvertent negotiation failure or suboptimal negotiation outcomes, and provide adequate representation of the institution vis-à-vis external actors. Kleine’s theory suggests that the Presidency acts as an adjudicator of the legitimacy of demands for concessions by member states that find themselves in the minority but claim to experience strong domestic pressures for non-compliance. By making impartial and thus credible recommendations about whether the formal voting rule or consensus decision-making should apply in these situations, the Presidency contributes to the long-term sustainability of international cooperation. The two explanatory accounts disagree about whether the growing role of the Presidency reflects an incremental accumulation of powers over time in response to new tasks or just an extension of already existing powers into new areas. Historical research on the development of Presidency powers could shed more light on this topic. Responses to the second question about the actual influence of the Presidency can be distinguished according to whether they relate to the Presidency’s scheduling power or to its proposal-making power. Control over the schedule and agenda of meetings, as well as the time devoted to different issues during a meeting, allows the Presidency to affect the relative allocation of attention to different policies. Allowing the Presidency to structure the agenda according to its own priorities comes with tangible collective benefits while resulting in little redistributive costs for other member states. In contrast, the Presidency’s exercise of proposal-making power, through its first-mover advantage, control over the negotiation text, and its privilege to call a vote or declare consensus, leads to biased negotiation outcomes with little or no benefits for member states but direct and tangible redistributive consequences. Thus, the Presidency’s prerogatives are largely based on informal norms and behavioral practices, which can always be superseded by recourse to formal rules. However, member states have little incentive to do so when the Presidency exercises its scheduling power but ample incentive if it exercises its proposal-making power. Existing empirical research provides clear evidence that the Presidency can exercise both scheduling power and proposal-making power at least to some extent and under certain conditions. Interesting questions for future research relate to the overall size and prevalence of the effects of the Presidency’s powers, the mechanisms through which these effects are generated, as well as the conditions that explain their variation over time, across policy areas, and across member state characteristics.

Article

Bargaining Models of War and the Stability of Peace in Post-Conflict Societies  

Margit Bussmann

A major challenge for countries that emerge from civil war is the stabilization of the post-conflict order in a way that fighting does not break out again. Recent empirical and theoretical work on the resolution of civil wars and on the duration of peace strongly rely on the bargaining framework of war emphasizing information asymmetries and commitment problems as main reasons for why in some states civil wars recur repeatedly, whereas in other societies a conflict ends and a transition to a peaceful society is successful. The length of peace spells depends partly on information about the distribution of power that became available during the conflict, captured by the duration and intensity of the fighting as well as the type of conflict ending. Information problems are more relevant at earlier stages and with regard to the initiation of negotiations. In finding bargaining deals and securing their implementation, the conflict parties have to overcome commitment problems. The literature has investigated in more detail third-party security guarantees and power-sharing arrangements as mechanisms to get conflict parties to credibly commit to and adhere to a negotiated agreement. Recently, empirical research moved beyond the conclusion of peace agreements to the study of their implementation. Particular challenges for a peaceful order are the demobilization of ex-combatants, which is aggravated by time-inconsistency problems, the timing of elections, and the redistribution of economic resources. Finally, solutions become more difficult in multiparty conflicts and if the armed groups are fragmented.

Article

War Termination  

Carmela Lutmar and Lesley Terris

War termination is not a monocausal event but rather the product of a multitude of strategic, political, and psychological factors. Variables at different levels of analysis, such as power distributions, regime types, leadership and leadership changes, and psychological factors are all found to influence war termination processes. Recent studies have also explored how variables at different levels of analysis interact with one another to impact the onset and outcome of war termination, across different types of conflict (interstate and intrastate). Dynamic Bargaining models contribute to our understanding by perceiving war termination in terms of the parties’ ability to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, against a background of accumulating costs and under conditions of incomplete information.

Article

American Prosecutors as Principals and Agents  

Brett Curry and Banks Miller

The pervasiveness of their influence arguably makes prosecutors the most consequential actors in the American criminal justice system. Armed with discretion over which cases to pursue, what charges to file, and which issue areas to prioritize, prosecutors play a decisive role in determining what progresses from investigation to the courtroom. It is their charge to do justice in each case, but that obligation hardly forecloses the influence of politics on their decisions. Despite their centrality, however, prosecutors and their behavior have failed to garner even a fraction of the attention that scholars have directed toward law enforcement, correctional systems, or judges. The discretion of American prosecutors is theoretically immense; there are few formal constraints upon it. If a federal or state prosecutor declines to pursue a case that has been referred to him or her, that declination decision is essentially immune from judicial review. But these formalisms come with more practical limitations. At the federal level, United States Attorneys are appointed by the president and, therefore, are expected to carry out an administration’s general policy priorities. In the states, most district attorneys answer to the electorate, which imposes its own constraints on a prosecutor’s freedom of action. Chief prosecutors—state and federal—are simultaneously principals to their subordinates and agents of the people or the president. If those considerations were not enough, American prosecutors must be mindful of still other factors. How might their actions today impact their future career paths? What influence might legislative changes, public opinion, or judicial rulings have on how they operate? Scholarship on prosecutors has addressed some of these questions, but we still lack a good understanding of all the ways in which politics infects prosecutorial decision-making. As “progressive prosecutors”—many who are former public defenders—continue to win office, new questions will arise about how far prosecutors can push reform of the criminal justice system. A major looming question is how voters conditioned to law-and-order rhetoric will evaluate the new prosecutors. Some preliminary work shows that non-White prosecutors tend to reduce rates of incarceration, while Republican-affiliated prosecutors increase them.