Showing Restraint, Signaling Resolve: Slides

I’m headed to SUNY Buffalo this week for a min-conference on Mathematical Modeling of Political Behavior (thanks for the invite, Phil Arena), and to help tie my hands against spending all my time editing them, I’m putting the slides for my presentation, “Showing Restraint, Signaling Resolve,” up here on the blog.

I’ve presented this paper around quite a bit (see here and here)—and since it’s under review, I’m not going to put it up here—but the essential point is that coalition partners—specifically, the desire to ensure their cooperation—can have a profound impact on bargaining, signals, and the probability of war. Against strong targets, the desire to keep a skittish partner in the fold discourages a coalition leader from bluffing; so, although its partner “waters down” the threat, it helps discourage war. Against weak targets, preserving military cooperation discourages a coalition leader from signaling its resolve; instead, it acts like an irresolute state, tempting the coalition’s target to risk war. As it happens, this pattern shows up pretty strongly in the data (which, trust me, was no small relief), and while the empirics aren’t in the version currently under review, I’m sure they’ll show up somewhere eventually…

And it appears that Buffalo’s going to be a bit, ah, chilly:

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Damn it.

Tomorrow: The Texas Triangle

Tomorrow, Texas A&M is hosting the annual Texas Triangle IR Conference, which highlights grad student and junior faculty research.

I’ll be presenting “National Leaders, Political Survival, and International Military Coalitions”, (co-authored with Emily Ritter), which tries to explain a specific type of cooperation: when and with whom states build military coalitions during crises (here are the slides). It’s part of a broader project that understands coalitions as crisis-specific instances of military cooperation, where building a coalition yields military benefits but requires that partners be compensated for their efforts. In this paper, we analyze how political survival incentives affect this tradeoff. We show that politically insecure leaders will be more willing than secure leaders to make side payments at the expense of the public interest to reduce the risk of defeat—which harms their chances of retaining office. Thus, insecure leaders are both more willing to build coalitions and less selective about the partners they choose, compromising a larger share of the public interest in the pursuit of retaining office.

As a side note, I’ll also be live-tweeting conference highlights at @nocodecub using the hashtag #TexasTriangle. It’s my first such attempt at live-tweeting, so I make no promises as to the consistency and quality of the effort, but if it helps publicize what I think is a pretty strong group of IR scholars in the state, then we’ll call it a win.

Upcoming: The Texas Triangle

This weekend (well, tomorrow), UT is hosting the Texas Triangle IR conference, and we’ll have representatives from UT, A&M, Rice, UNT, and Texas Tech in attendance, presenting and discussing research on what looks like a pretty diverse set of topics. After a couple of harrowing weeks of work turning my APSA paper into something totally unlike what it used to be (in fairness, it’s just being split into two papers), I’m putting the finishing touches on my contribution, “Showing Restraint, Signaling Resolve.” (I’ll post slides once I’ve got them ready. I described these last two weeks as “harrowing,” remember?)

The core of the paper is a model that examines the role of third parties (specifically, skittish coalition partners) in the dynamics of signaling and crisis bargaining. The basic story goes something like this: a coalition leader can use military mobilization to signal resolve, but higher levels of mobilization can mean a costlier war, which makes one’s allies nervous. So there’s a dilemma: mobilize heavily and signal resolve to an opponent (but risk fracturing the coalition), or mobilize lightly, failing to signal resolve but preserving the coalition. Plenty of popular—and even scholarly—discourse expects that skittish allies are a bad thing in this context; they water down threats (thereby mucking up attempts to send credible signals), and they don’t pony up when it’s time to fight. The model, though, shows that this isn’t exactly true. The presence of a partner—especially one that’ll leave the coalition rather than get involved in too costly a war—can either increase or decrease the probability of war, depending on the strength of the target.

Yep. The strength of the target.

Here’s how. When the costs of war are spread unevenly through the coalition (say, if one partner has to host airbases or supply depots for troops in a next-door conflict zone) and a partner can refuse to cooperate if the crisis escalates to war, then one of two things happens. First, when the target is relatively strong, preserving military cooperation is enough to convince an irresolute coalition leader not to engage in risky bluffing that leads to war (when bluffing would occur without the partner). Second, when the target is relatively weaker, an otherwise resolute coalition leader that could mobilize heavily to signal resolve chooses not to, preserving the coalition but also generating a risk of war where none would occur if it escalated to a higher level.

The takeaway point? Well, I think there are a few. But first and foremost, we can learn something from this about how coalitions, not just states acting alone, bargain with their targets—something we simply don’t know much about, despite their ubiquity. Turns out, in a point related to this post, that the effects of the multilateral distribution of power depend heavily on intra-coalitional politics…and that, for now, has me pretty excited about presenting this. It’s a little thin empirically—though I do think it accounts for signaling behavior in at least the Berlin Crisis of 1961 and in the lead-up to the Kosovo War—but I’m hoping that a good round of comments from the Triangle and an upcoming talk at UVA will help flesh it out. Slides, then post-mortem to follow…

APSA postmortem

Had a great, great experience at APSA (and no, not just time with friends — though the flight museum, the half marathon, all night foo fighters, shorty’s, and my first experience with oysters were absurdly epic). Was fortunate to have two fantastic discussants, both on the threat-of-coup paper and the world opinion piece. For the former, I’ve got ideas for enriching the (currently sparse) model to give it more empirical (and testable) bite, and on the latter, a different literature to ground it in so that I’m not in the big mess of defining world opinion (though the big takeaway point – that strategic restraint can sometimes discourage but very often encourage war – stays in place), and I couldn’t be happier with how it all turned out. Look for updates to both in this space soon, and thanks to all the panel participants and discussants…

Time for the APSA slides…

I’m giving two panel presentations at APSA this week, and I decided this would be as good a place as any to post the slides. First, “Great Powers, World Opinion, and War” and, second, “Autocracies, Militaries, and War.” As you might suspect, the former (previewed and posted in full here) has been around longer than the latter (which is both little more than a theoretical exercise and this point and admittedly a little bit outside my substantive wheelhouse), but if you’re interested in seeing just how it is that I put entire rooms of academics to sleep, enjoy…