War and Peace in East Asia, Lecture 4

Today was the last lecture in Part I of the course, where we set up the historical and theoretical background for actually talking about war and peace in East Asia, delving into the theory of war as a commitment problem: that is, since countries can’t credibly promise not to act powerful before they become powerful, others might choose to fight them before that happens—nipping the problem of shifting power in the bud, as it were.

We also talked a little about how war actually solves commitment problems, and it made me wonder if we spend enough time thinking about how that might be the case. Dan Reiter‘s book considers foreign imposed regime change following total war as one possible solution, Leventoğlu and Slantchev have a story about war destroying a sufficient amount of the surplus, and Harrison Wagner suggests that preemptive wars might be short, since they’re aimed at eliminating opportunities for surprise attack, but that might be just about all I can come up with off the top of my head.

The former and the latter both focus on fighting aimed at destroying the very sources of shifting power—governments or tactical windows of opportunity—but I wonder what additional purchase we might gain by linking specific sources of shifting power (say, long run demographic growth, weapons programs, etc.) to specific war aims, then seeing how prevailing military technology interacts with those aims to produce issue specific variation in war duration…

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