Annotated Bibliography of The Rationality of War

Below is the annotated bibliography of my book The Rationality of War. You can purchase the book here.

Notes on Chapter 2 (War’s Inefficiency Puzzle)
Chapter 2 diagrams the fundamental puzzle of war that James Fearon presented in “Rationalist Explanations for War.” You can view the original article here. A few years later, Robert Powell analyzed a substantially richer (and mathematically more involved) version of the seminal bargaining game that allows for repeated offers. You can find that in his book In the Shadow of Power.

Notes on Chapter 3 (Preventive War)
The core of preventive war theory comes from Fearon’s “Rationalist Explanations for War” (here). Fearon also has a separate article entitled “Ethnic War as a Commitment Problem” (here), which provides a detailed discussion on power shifts in relation to civil conflict. It has a nice discussion of the breakdown of Yugoslavia. Reading it motivated me to begin researching this topic almost a decade ago.

Robert Powell presents similar interactions in “War as a Commitment Problem” (here) and in his book In the Shadow of Power. Again, Powell’s models are more detailed than these basic setups, which is nice for the sake of completeness but also requires substantially more technical knowledge to read through.

Thomas Chadefaux deserves credit for emphasizing power shifts as endogenous phenomenon. The argument traces back to “Bargaining over Power: When Do Shifts in Power Lead to War?” (here), which generates the result that preventive wars do not naturally occur if states can control their investment in power.

Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro investigated potential power shifts in which the declining state cannot observe the decision to build. This leads to uncertainty and positive probability of war. The article is titled “Known Unknowns: Power Shifts, Uncertainty, and War” (here).

Finally, Fearon contributed to our understanding of how random events (such as the difficulty of coordinating mass protests) that create a temporary power shift can cause conflict in “Why Do Some Civil Wars Last So Much Longer Than Others?” (here).

Notes on Chapter 4 (Private Information and Incentives to Misrepresent)
As before, “Rationalist Explanations for War” (here) was the first publication to seriously investigate how asymmetric information and incentives to misrepresent affect the bargaining process. However, he modeled war as a game–ending move, which seems unnatural. Consequently, a large wave of literature that modeled war as a bargaining process followed. Many of their results are very similar, so they are often lumped into a group. They are:

  • “Bargaining and War” by R. Harrison Wagner (here)
  • “The Principle of Convergence in Wartime Negotiations” by Branislav Slantchev (here)
  • “Bargaining and Learning While Fighting” by Robert Powell (here)
  • “Bargaining and the Nature of War” by Alastair Smith and Allan Stam (here)
  • “A Bargaining Model of War and Peace: Anticipating the Onset, Duration, and Outcome of War” by Darren Filson and Suzanne Werner (here)

As the name implies, Slantchev deserves credit for coming up with the “convergence” term.

The following researchers made contributions in this effort: R. Harrison Wagner, Branislav Slantchev, Robert Powell, Alastair Smith and Allan Stam, and Darren Filson and Suzanne Werner. Slantchev deserves credit for coming up with the “convergence” term.

Notes on Chapter 5 (Issue Indivisibility)
There is not much to reference here. “Rationalist Explanations for War” (here) discusses issue indivisibility and promptly rejects it as being useful due to the potential for side payments. In addition, Barbara Walter (no, not Barbara Walters) investigates how commitment problems result from power indivisibility in “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement” (here). She also finds that third party interventions are almost always necessary to achieve peace in civil wars.

Notes on Chapter 6 (Preemptive War)
For one last time, “Rationalist Explanations for War” (here) contains the basics of preemptive war. It is worth noting that informal arguments about preemptive war predated Fearon’s explanation. Stephen Van Evera’s article “The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of World War I” (here) makes an interesting read. The advantage of Fearon’s model is that it explicitly shows that war is inevitable if the first strike advantages outweigh the costs.

A final article, “Exploding the Powder Keg Myth: Preemptive Wars Almost Never Happen” (here) by Dan Reiter, investigates the empirical usefulness of the preemptive war explanation. As the article’s name spoils, Reiter comes up mostly empty. Only three wars fit the preemptive war bill: World War I (as Van Evera discusses), China’s entrance into the Korean War on behalf of the North, and the Six Day War. Consequently, first strike advantages mainly contribute to other rationalist explanations for war.

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