War as a Commitment Problem

  title={War as a Commitment Problem},
  author={Robert Powell},
  journal={International Organization},
  pages={169 - 203}
  • R. Powell
  • Published 9 December 2004
  • Political Science
  • International Organization
Although formal work on war generally sees war as a kind of bargaining breakdown resulting from asymmetric information, bargaining indivisibilities, or commitment problems, most analyses have focused on informational issues. But informational explanations and the models underlying them have at least two major limitations: they often provide a poor account of prolonged conflict, and they give an odd reading of the history of some cases. This article describes these limitations and argues that… 
Chapter ??? Commitment Problems and Shifting Power as a Cause of Conflict
Commitment Problems and Shifting Power as a Cause of Conflict Robert Powell Decades ahead of his time, Thomas Schelling emphasized that “most conflict situations are essentially bargaining
Two Cheers for Bargaining Theory: Assessing Rationalist Explanations of the Iraq War
The Iraq War has received little sustained analysis from scholars of international relations. I assess the rationalist approach to waror, simply, bargaining theoryas one possible explanation of the
Bargaining and war: A review of some formal models
Would perfectly rational agents always negotiate peaceful outcomes at the bargaining table, or would they sometimes fight costly wars? The Coase theorem suggests that when rational agents negotiate
Bargaining Theory, Civil War Outcomes, and War Recurrence: Assessing the Results of Empirical Tests of the Theory
Once ended, a significant number of civil wars recur. One influential empirical interna­ tional relations theory on which scholars have drawn in an effort to provide an explana­ tion for this
Bargaining over power: when do shifts in power lead to war?
Students of international relations have long argued that large and rapid shifts in relative power can lead to war. But then why does the rising state not alleviate the concerns of the declining one
Optimism and commitment: an elementary theory of bargaining and war
We propose an elementary theory of wars fought by fully rational contenders that features three of the main rationalist explanations for armed conflicts: uncertainty, commitment, and indivisibility.
A Theory of Brinkmanship, Conflicts, and Commitments
Many conflicts and negotiations can be viewed as dynamic games in which parties have no commitment power. In our model, a potential aggressor demands concessions from a weaker party by threatening
Credibility and Crisis Bargaining
Although scholars of international security share a skepticism for the extent to which agreements can be externally inforced, much of the extant game-theoretic work involves strong forms of
War as a Redistributive Problem
War is commonly conceived of as the result of a bargaining process between states. However, war also has redistributive consequences within a state: certain groups face disproportionate costs (e.g.
The Armed Peace: A Punctuated Equilibrium Theory of War
According to a leading rationalist explanation, war can break out when a large rapid shift of power renders unbelievable a rising state's promise to compensate its declin- ing opponent, causing the


▪ Abstract International relations theory has long seen the origins, conduct, and termination of war as a bargaining process. Recent formal work on these issues draws very heavily on Rubinstein's
The Power to Hurt: Costly Conflict with Completely Informed States
Because war is costly and risky, states have incentives to negotiate and avoid conflict. The common rationalist explanation is that war results from private information and incentives to misrepresent
Bargaining and Learning While Fighting
Much of the existing formal work on war models the decision to go to war as a game-ending, costly lottery. This article relaxes this assumption by treating war as a costly process during which the
Military Coercion in Interstate Crises and the Price of Peace
Military mobilization has a dual role in crisis bargaining: it simultaneously sinks costs (because it must be paid for regardless of the outcome), and ties hands (because it increases the probability
The Principle of Convergence in Wartime Negotiations
If war results from disagreement about relative strength, then it ends when opponents learn enough about each other. Learning occurs when information is revealed by strategically manipulable
The Inefficient Use of Power: Costly Conflict with Complete Information
  • R. Powell
  • Economics
    American Political Science Review
  • 2004
Recent work across a wide range of issues in political economy as well as in American, comparative, and international politics tries to explain the inefficient use of power—revolutions, civil wars,
Bargaining in the Shadow of Power
Abstract Often a bargainer can use some form of power—legal, military, or political—to impose a settlement. How does the “outside” option of being able to impose a settlement, albeit at some cost,
Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer than Others?
Five factors are shown to be strongly related to civil war duration. Civil wars emerging from coups or revolutions tend to be short. Civil wars in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have also
Deterring Intervention: The Stakes of War and Third-Party Involvement
Why does a third party become involved in an ongoing dispute? One important reason for involvement is often the third party's perception that the attacking country poses a significant threat to the
Bargaining and War
Kenneth Waltz’s “third image” of the causes of war (1959), which was the foundation for what came to be known as “structural Realism” or “Neorealism,” was inspired, as we have seen, by Jean-Jacques