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Article

The balance of conventional military capabilities is intrinsic to understanding patterns of war among nations. However, cumulative knowledge relating to the effects of nuclear weapons possession on conflict interaction is largely absent. Framework is provided for analyzing the results of quantitative empirical research on this question and to identify any extant strong and consistent patterns in the interactions of states that can be associated with the possession of nuclear weapons. Since 1945, a vast, sophisticated, and contradictory literature has developed on the implications of nuclear weaponry for patterns of international conflict and war. This theoretical and empirical work has principally focused on the conflict effects of these weapons for the interaction of nuclear-armed states, although a growing number of studies have explored the impact of a state’s possession of nuclear weapons on the behavior of nonnuclear opponents. Given the destructive capacity of these weapons and their questionable value for battlefield use, most of this work has concentrated on the requirements for successful deterrence. In categorizing the studies, some scholars note that “classical deterrence theory” derives from the Realist paradigm of international politics and subdivide this theory into two complementary strands: structural (or neorealist) deterrence theory and decision-theoretic deterrence theory. In contrast, other analysts choose to classify work on nuclear deterrence into three schools of thought: nuclear irrelevance; risk manipulation, escalation, and limited war; and the nuclear revolution. The essence of these divisions involves a debate about what the possession of nuclear weapons does for a state that controls them. Does the possession of these weapons affect the behavior of nuclear and nonnuclear opponents in disputes over contested values? Do the weapons impart political influence and hold military utility, or are they useless as tools for deterrence, compellence, or war?

Article

Richard Bösch

Even though most conflicts in everyday life manifest themselves as cursory bagatelles, there are conflicts that end up in situations of organized, collective violence (e.g., armed conflict). To understand how trivial contradictions can become meaningful conflicts in a broader societal context, it is crucial to examine the process of conflict escalation. Conflict escalation can be understood as an intensification of a conflict with regard to the observed extent and the means used. An escalating conflict represents a developing social system in its own right, having the legitimization of violence as a key feature. Here, a broader social science perspective on the concept of conflict escalation is offered, outlining its intellectual history, explaining its major perspectives and current emphases, and exploring newer avenues in approaching social conflict.

Article

Mediation has become a dominant method of peaceful conflict resolution in the international system. Since the end of the Cold War in particular, an increasing number of belligerents have relied on mediators to help end their disputes. Yet, while mediators offer many advantages in the process of making peace, at times serving as the only way for rivals to move forward, mediation may also entail negative, unintended, consequences. Escalation of the conflict upon the mediator’s entrance is one such unintended consequence. Strategic considerations on the one hand, and psychological mechanisms on the other, frequently prompt rivals to escalate rather than cease hostilities upon the onset of mediation. Another possible unintended consequence is prolongation of the conflict due to the presence of the mediator. With a mediator involved in the negotiations, rivals may be tempted to put off an agreement in the hope of gaining a better deal while evading the cost of all-out conflict, or the disputing parties may conclude that they stand to gain more from the mediation process itself than from reaching a settlement. Mediation may also lead to fragile settlements that are prone to be short-lived as compared to settlements arrived at by the disputing parties on their own. This process is driven by factors such as the tendency of mediators to push for settlement terms that are easily attainable but that do not resolve the underlying causes of the conflict and are not necessarily sustainable. Whereas the contribution of mediation to conflict resolution is widely researched and discussed by scholars, to fully appreciate the significance of mediation as a method of conflict resolution, it is crucial to understand its possible negative consequences as well. A clear understanding of the full picture is essential for scholars and practitioners alike.

Article

Core concepts of the interdisciplinary social science field of conflict analysis and resolution (CAR) are discussed. Work in the field is based on numerous generally accepted ideas about the nature of conflict and constructive approaches to conflict. These ideas include ways of waging conflicts constructively, tracing the interconnectedness of conflicts, and assessing the multiplicity of actors. Other important core concepts relate to stages of conflicts: emergence, escalation, de-escalation and settlement, and sustaining peace. Finally, current and future issues regarding CAR conceptualizations and their applications are examined.

Article

Frank C. Zagare

Perfect deterrence theory and classical deterrence theory are two theoretical frameworks that have divergent empirical implications and dissimilar policy recommendations. In perfect deterrence theory, threat credibility plays a central role in the operation of both direct and extended deterrence relationships. But credible threats are neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence to prevail, and under certain conditions, the presence of a credible threat may actually undermine deterrence. In perfect deterrence theory, the cost of conflict and status quo evaluations are also important strategic variables. Classical deterrence theorists tend to fixate on the former and ignore the latter. This theoretical oversight precludes a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of deterrence.

Article

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.

Article

Kyle Beardsley, Patrick James, Jonathan Wilkenfeld, and Michael Brecher

Over the course of more than four decades the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project, a major and ongoing data-gathering enterprise in the social sciences, has compiled data that continues to be accessed heavily in scholarship on conflict processes. ICB holdings consist of full-length qualitative case studies, along with an expanding range of quantitative data sets. Founded in 1975, the ICB Project is among the most visible and influential within the discipline of International Relations (IR). A wide range of studies based either primarily or in part on the ICB’s concepts and data have accumulated and cover subjects that include the causes, processes, and consequences of crises. The breadth of ICB’s contribution has expanded over time to go beyond a purely state-centric approach to include crisis-related activities of transnational actors across a range of categories. ICB also offers depth through, for example, potential resolution of contemporary debates about mediation in crises on the basis of nuanced findings about long- versus short-term impact with regard to conflict resolution.

Article

Prospect theory is a behavioral theory that holds that human attitudes toward risk are not fixed but can shift dramatically based on how a decision is framed. Instead of assessing different options in the abstract, individuals form a point of reference and weigh decisions based on how the outcomes may impact that point. When a proposition is framed as a potential gain, individuals exhibit risk-averse behavior and prefer certain gains over potentially more lucrative gambles. Conversely, when an identical question is posited as a loss, people become risk acceptant and are willing to gamble on potentially significant losses rather than accept even modest setbacks. Since first gaining prominence through the works of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, prospect theory has provided a valuable analytical tool for analyzing political decision making. Within international relations, the theory has been leveraged to gauge individual leaders’ attitudes toward risk when making decisions under uncertain conditions. This approach has yielded keen insights into a diverse range of episodes and issues including economic reforms, crisis management, and casualty sensitivity. Prospect theory also holds significant potential within the field of civil-military affairs. Although political leaders and military commanders ostensibly serve national interests, each possesses distinct interests and responsibilities. This means that even when facing a similar situation, civilian and military leaders may assess the situation from contrasting frames of reference and consequently possess conflicting attitudes toward risk. Such situations will lead to competing policy prescriptions and engender civil-military conflict. Incorporating prospect theory into our analysis of civil-military affairs provides a valuable tool for identifying policy preferences within individual actors and explaining how different frames of reference and risk propensities can shape civil-military disputes.