Peaceful Uncertainty: When Power Shocks Do Not Create Commitment Problems

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Authors Muhammet Ali Bas, Robert Schub
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Does a shock to the balance of power cause the favored actor to exploit its newfound advantage by initiating conflict? The main assumption in the modeling literature on commitment problems as a source of war is that states know and anticipate power shifts. We relax this assumption such that states must estimate future power shifts by looking at past and present capabilities of themselves and their adversaries. We incorporate these estimates and their attendant uncertainty into a model of war and find that while commitment problems are a source of war, the existing models overpredict war by ignoring this dynamic. States continuously updating their estimates and accounting for uncertainty promotes peace. One implication is that an apparent window of opportunity in which the power balance is suddenly favorable is less problematic than previously theorized. This result has applications to nuclear proliferation dynamics as well as shifting power and conflict generally. We find empirical support for the model in tests analyzing power shifts and interstate wars. ∗Department of Government, Harvard University. †Nuffield College and Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford.
Date of publication 2017
Code Programming Language R

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