When Does Hawk Engagement Work? Conflict and Cooperation Under Uncertainty

With Iris Malone.

Abstract: Engaging leaders with a greater resolve to fight in negotiations sometimes leads to increased cooperation, but when and why is relatively unclear. This paper develops a new theory to explain why bargaining with these hawkish leaders under uncertainty can increase the likelihood of peace. We create a formal model that shows that as a leader becomes more hawkish—and the expected payoffs for fighting increase—uncertainty over the costs of fighting becomes irrelevant. With information problems mitigated, proposers make safer offers. We illustrate the strategic logic with a short case on constructive engagement policy surrounding South Africa. We derive implications for understanding variation in other contemporary hawk engagement policies towards East Germany and North Korea. This finding advances scholarly understanding about how crisis bargaining works under uncertainty.

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