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…