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Article

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

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

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

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

Yoshiharu Kobayashi

Economic sanctions are an attempt by states to coerce a change in the policy of another state by restricting their economic relationship with the latter. Between, roughly, the 1960s–1980s, the question dominating the study of sanctions was whether they are an effective tool of foreign policy. Since the 1990s, however, with the introduction of large-N datasets, scholars have turned to more systematic examinations of previously little explored questions, such as when and how sanctions work, when and why states employ sanctions, and why some sanctions last longer than others. Two dominant perspectives, one based on strategic logic and the other on domestic politics, have emerged, providing starkly different answers to these questions. A growing body of evidence lends support to both strategic and domestic politics perspectives, but also points to areas in which they fall short. To complement these shortcomings, a new direction for research is to unite these perspectives into a single theoretical framework.

Article

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

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

Demobilization of ex-combatants is a major obstacle in the transition to a stable postconflict society. The combatants must be convinced to abandon the armed confrontation and hand over their weapons in light of security concerns and a lack of alternative means of income. The challenges to overcoming the commitment problem differ in terms of numbers of combatants who must be demobilized for conflicts that end in a decisive victory and conflicts that reach a military stalemate. Peace agreements can offer several solutions for overcoming the parties’ commitment problems, but often the implementation of the provisions is incomplete. Third parties can offer to monitor an agreement and provide security guarantees. International actors increasingly assist with demobilization and reintegration programs for former combatants and help to overcome security-related concerns and economic challenges. Another solution offered is military power-sharing arrangements and the integration of rebel fighters into the national military. These measures are intended to reduce the pool for potential recruitment for existing or new rebel groups. If ex-combatants are left without means of income to support themselves and their families, the risk is higher that they will remobilize and conflict will recur. Reintegration in the civilian labor market, however, is often difficult in the weak economies of war-affected countries.

Article

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.