A deleted scene from “Incumbents, Successors, and Crisis Bargaining”

More often than not, shepherding a paper through the publication process requires cutting things out we’d like to keep in (and, often enough for me, plenty of stuff that had no business being in there in the first place). In this particular case, I had to cut an extension of the model in “Incumbents, Successors, and Crisis Bargaining,” freshly in print at the Journal of Peace Research (and mentioned here), that just didn’t fit well with the rest of the paper. However, I think it’s an interesting look at the potential connections between leadership change and war, so I decided to post the deleted scene, as it were, here.

The essential point of this little extension is that, if we tweak some assumptions about (a) what leader change means for a country’s military prospects and (b) the extent to which war can “lock-in” a settlement into the future, we can get an additional leader-based explanation for war. Here, it’s successor-driven war, in which an incumbent known to be willing to make deep concessions is nonetheless attacked by an adversary, who prefers war in the present against an irresolute incumbent to the possibility of facing her much more resolute successor.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with this model just yet. If I end up putting the collection of leaders-and-war papers into a book, it may go there, but in the meantime, I think it’s a sufficiently interesting contribution to the literature on leaders and war that it merits—at the very least—a little shameless promotion on the blog.

Why the Syrian opposition isn’t negotiating…and why it makes perfect sense

I came across this story today about how the Syrian opposition, populated by an increasing number of former generals and high-ranking officials, has rejected the UN’s (via Kofi Annan) attempts to bring the belligerents together for peace talks aimed at ending the civil war in their country. While some readers may lament the fact that the opposition is turning down a chance at “peace,” or think that this says something about their ultimate aims in the conflict, I’m (obviously) going to dispute that here. In fact, we’ve got every reason to believe that under the current circumstances, any deal that leaves the current government even partially intact will be a non-starter, and reasonably so.

There are two reasons for this. First, as the article indicates, the opposition is starting to attract some more powerful defectors from the Assad regime, meaning that their relative power is likely on the rise, and they expect to do better in the future. Sitting down at the negotiating table now runs the risk of locking in an agreement that reflects the current military situation. However, the opposition clearly prefers fighting to whatever stopping now might look like, and they’re likely to require even more in the way of concessions from the top if they can continue to attract more defectors. This, of course, assumes that there would be some third party able to enforce a deal between government and opposition…

…which may not be all that likely.

That leads me to the second point. Even if the opposition didn’t think it could do better by fighting on rather than accept some UN-brokered deal, it probably has little reason to suspect that any deal agreed upon today would actually stick. If some new power-sharing agreement required either disarming or letting up on the military pressure it’s currently putting on the regime, then Assad’s government would be free to renege—it would certainly have the incentives and restored power to do so—and undo all the gains that the opposition won in the agreement. In other words, an agreement that would shift bargaining power away from the opposition wouldn’t be credible, and the opposition has every incentive to fight for a better deal than take the fool’s gold of a bargain that their enemies could renege on easily. (On the other hand, Assad’s government would probably also rather fight than give the opposition enough in a power-sharing agreement to take advantage of it in the future, too.)

In that sense, this isn’t unlike the Egyptian opposition’s refusal to leave the streets of Cairo in response to empty promises of reform last spring. What’s the point of all this, then? Well, first, as well-meaning as calls for negotiation might be, there’s little reason to expect that it’s in either party’s interest to participate in them in good faith. Second, any deal that would require the rebels to disarm in a power-sharing agreement likely just  won’t stick if there is some kind of attempt to implement it. And, finally, third party attempts to mediate or, especially, to impose a settlement aren’t likely to be all that stable…something we all might wish to keep in mind as the debate over what to do about Syria moves forward…

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…

Obama, Romney, and the Taliban

Thanks to Phil Arena, I saw two tweets from Andrew Exum today (both highly recommended blogs, by the way) that caught my eye:

I wonder if Mitt Romney’s “no negotiations” stance actually strengthens the hand of the Obama Admin. as it negotiates with the Taliban.
1/17/12 6:57 AM
In a way, Romney is the bad cop to Obama’s good cop in negotiations with the Taliban.
1/17/12 6:58 AM

As it happens, I just finished making revisions a “conditionally accepted” paper (this one) that relates pretty directly to this question (it’s also a topic dealt with in my dissertation and hinted at here, but gated): how does the threat of leadership change affect an incumbent’s international bargaining fortunes? Specifically, the question here is how the threat of Romney (more hawkish than Obama?) winning the presidency affects what Obama can get out of negotiations with the Taliban now.

What does this paper have to say about it? For the most part, the answer to this question turns on two things: (a) the extent of differences between the successor and the incumbent and (b) just how sensitive the incumbent’s electoral fortunes are to bargaining outcomes. I won’t get too heavily into the details of the model, but if we take it that Romney would be more willing to continue the war in Afghanistan than Obama (which we’re going to take the “no negotiations” position to represent), then we’ve got an intriguing possibility: something the paper calls “preemptive appeasement.”

Essentially, preemptive appeasement is softening one’s bargaining position in order to bolster a pliant incumbent in office, forestalling the rise of a more resolute successor that one would rather not deal with. If Romney will fight longer than Obama and the Taliban believe that playing ball with Obama will keep him in office through the next election, then they might well do so—trading some concessions now to increase the chances that Obama stays in office in return for extracting a better deal in 2013 than they would against Romney.

Of course, if they don’t think Obama can be bolstered in office with concessions—or if his reelection becomes a foregone conclusion–then their strategy will switch to one of getting what they can now, striking while the iron is hot, and the prospect of Romney waiting in the wings won’t have as much of an effect. Which is all to say that there may well be a pretty consequential connection between primary season, the pace of economic recovery, the general election, and the war in Afghanistan.

Stay tuned. I know I will.

ICC post at The Monkey Cage

The folks at The Monkey Cage were kind enough to take a contribution from Emily Ritter and me tying our forthcoming JTP to Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s indirect talks with the ICC over the terms of his surrender, so don’t waste your time here. Go check it out.

(And, hopefully, we’ll have something more to say about it in the future.)

Israel, Palestine, and the Two-State Solution

I noticed this op-ed by Ehud Olmert today in the NYT (it’s late in the month, so hopefully your free article count with them hasn’t run out), where he outlines the terms of a deal that he thinks both sides should agree to, involving land-swaps, equivalent land area to the pre-1967 borders, a shared Jerusalem, and third-party administration of the holy sites in that city…and, to cap it off,

the Palestinian state would be demilitarized and it would not form military alliances with other nations.

I don’t pretend to know the current official positions of either side on the first few issues, but this last one strikes me as particularly difficult from a practical standpoint. So let’s leave other substantive issues with the agreement aside and consider this one: would an agreement to forego a military even work?

This deal would require that an erstwhile state agree to give up its two primary means of self-defense: arms and allies. (I can imagine a state that suffered a total military defeat agreeing to this, but not many others.) In fact, yielding the means of self-defense is almost like yielding statehood, and the Palestinians likely know that this will leave them vulnerable (not just to Israel but to other potential threats) in the future, a future in which states with militaries can’t commit not to use that leverage to their advantage. In that sense, it’s easy to see why this agreement might not work: the status quo today, however painful and however dim the prospects of some alternative deal emerging, might be better than a future in which a state can’t effectively wield military power. (Of course, we might also think that agreements to demilitarize are inherently incredible to begin with, and that Palestine could freely militarize regardless of the agreement, but doing so would be in clear violation of a previous agreement, giving outsiders a casus belli or, at the very least, legal room in which to frustrate any attempt to arm.)

All in all, the terms themselves would prevent this deal from being self-enforcing: states with militaries might want to make demands of states without them, leading those states without to try to militarize in violation of the terms of the agreement, which means the deal likely wouldn’t stick (and when it broke down, it would be pretty costly). And, anticipating that, why sign that deal in the first place?

However this whole thing shakes out—peacefully, violently, or, well, never—my suspicion is that, unless the status quo goes quickly from bad to worse for Palestine, a stable agreement to establish two states won’t involve a de-militarized Palestinian political entity.


UPDATE: Phil Arena has a great discussion of some of the longer-term demographic sources of commitment problems in Israel and Palestine.

When do rebels turn against each other?

Last week, we heard about the somewhat mysterious death of a Libyan rebel commander, leading to some speculation about rebels turning against each other as they inch ever closer to (possibly) capturing Tripoli. This reminded me of a toy model I wrote down several months ago (linked here) that, frankly, I didn’t know what to do with. Ergo, I’m putting it here to see what folks think.

Here’s the basic story from the abstract:

Why do some rebel groups divert resources from fighting the government in order to fight other rebel groups before the government is defeated? I analyze resource allocation decisions in which two rebel groups divide finite resources between fighting their common enemy, the government, and fighting one another to influence the distribution of power for the power-sharing contest that follows military victory. In equilibrium, the inability of rebel groups to commit not to exploit the loser in a power-sharing contest can lead them to divert resources away from fighting the government and towards undermining each other when the government is sufficiently weak. In other words, as the prospects for defeating the government improve, rebels become more likely to work against one another, further delaying their ultimate victory.

So when (1) there’s no guarantee that rebels can trust each other to share power once the government’s toppled and (2) the chances of defeating the government start looking pretty good, rebel groups will divert some resources away from the main war effort and husband them for using against one another once victory’s achieved. That, of course, gives us an explanation for why fortunes can be both difficult to judge and pretty volatile in civil wars. Or, from the (very bare-bones) write-up of the model:

Perversely, the better the rebels expect to do against the government, the fewer resources they devote to the war in order to husband their strength for the power-sharing contest that follows victory. Neither side wishes to let the other gain a sufficient advantage, and thus they reduce their chances of victory, perhaps even prolonging the war, because of the commitment problem created by postwar control over the state apparatus.

Now, of course, the question is what to do with this thing. There’s some other work out there linking the number of groups to the duration of war, but (if I remember correctly) for different reasons, but I am, as always, open to suggestions.

Does world opinion matter?

Just posted my APSA paper to my website that addresses just this question (presenting it Friday 8am, for better or worse). Decisionmakers—even scholars—invoke the notion of global public opinion pretty often, but it’s not entirely clear (a) what they mean by it and (b) that we have very good tools to asses whether and how it “matters” (or doesn’t) for the decisions great powers like the US in international disputes. This is the question I tackle in the paper, and I argue that it comes down to the fact that great powers face competing incentives in crisis bargaining: convincing their opponents that they’re willing to fight but reassuring fearful observers that they’re generally restrained in the use of force.

It’s not an easy line to walk—the motivating case is actually the US’s hotly-debated decision not to escalate the Berlin Crisis of 1961-62 too far—but the model gives some fairly interesting answers to the question. On the one hand, if a state has world opinion on its side, then the diplomatic costs that will be imposed on its enemy will discourage it from escalating, and the probability of war drops as the diplomatic costs associated with the opposition of world opinion go up. On the other hand, the promise of winning that kind of support can lead a resolute state that would otherwise escalate in order to prove its willingness to fight (thereby avoiding war) to mask its resolve, appearing restrained in order to win the favor of public opinion—all because fighting a war with its support is worse than achieving peace but losing the support of world opinion.

So it’s a story about bargaining, restraint, balancing, and, perhaps above all else, trying to really get a handle on one way that world opinion might very well affect the decisions of even the most powerful states in the system. Of course, the news isn’t all good, if it means that a strong, robust body of world opinion that favors restraint can actually encourage war, but we’ll see how well it goes over in Seattle…

Oil discovery, shifting power, and civil conflict

A former grad student, Curtis Bell, and I just finished a paper that provides (yet another) look (in a long line of them) at the link between resources and civil war, specifically fixed assets like oil. (Click here for a draft of the paper.) The argument is fairly simple: since oil wealth can directly strengthen governments against rebel challenges and increase the value of controlling the state, then the lag time between oil discovery and oil production should provide a window of opportunity for rebels to challenge the state before it becomes so wealthy that the status quo becomes obsolete and potential rebels find themselves in an even less favorable position.

We’ve got a fairly simple model of shifting power, bargaining, and war, where we show that the promise of increased wealth—i.e. the announcement of new proved reserves—increases the chances of conflict, but only when the state isn’t already wealthy (which would mean that further increases in resources aren’t that significant). Curtis got his hands on data for proved reserves around the world from 1981-2007, so we’ve got then-publicly available information that serves as a pretty good proxy for expectations over future government strength. Thankfully, our empirics bear the predictions out: poor countries with large announced discoveries of oil are quite vulnerable to civil conflict, but there’s no discernible effect for rich countries. There’s also an advantage here in that we’ve got a more precise mechanism behind oil wealth and civil war, which allows us to say something about when poor countries are more likely to see civil conflict, increasing our ability to predict—and maybe, just maybe—prevent civil wars.

In that spirit, we also decided to run some out-of-sample predictions for the years 2009-2010 and try to gauge the effects of a 50% increase in proved oil reserves for every country in the world, and we got some intriguing results.

Probably most intriguing is that West Africa, which is seeing a boom in exploration and from which the US and the West are expecting to get more oil in the future, is particularly vulnerable to civil conflict should there be a big find in the current time frame. Southeast Africa and chunks of south Asia are also potential hot spots should oil be discovered, and we talk (albeit briefly) in the paper about how, should poor countries be promised a windfall of resource wealth, international action to ameliorate the commitment problem—either helping temporarily strength the government or somehow making future commitments credible—might have some chance to be effective and stave off civil war. Of course, managing that window of vulnerability can be difficult and long and, as a result, expensive, but we prefer to open only one can of worms at a time…

Predicting social revolutions?

Should social scientists have been able to predict the chaos in Tunis and Egypt? After someone at AEI decided that someone should’ve, then went on to slam scientists for not doing so, Dan Drezner and Phil Arena had some interesting thoughts in rebuttal. I’ve got nothing to add, strictly speaking, to what they said, because the AEI post demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of science. I’ve got another answer to the question—well, at least another reason to say “no”—that has to do precisely with insights gained from political science about things live social revolutions. In short, things like this can’t happen unless they are unpredictable.

The events in Tunis and Egypt had to be fairly unpredictable if they were to happen…otherwise, the repressive organs of the respective states, or the governments through preemptive concessions, would’ve tried to head them off (which, anticipating some unrest, Jordan and Yemen are trying to do right now). This is probably true of anything like a social revolution, a coup, putsch, etc., because they begin with one side—the people or a batch of upset colonels—at a serious bargaining disadvantage with respect to the state, a disadvantage that can only be overturned, even temporarily, through some sort of surprise.

So in the end, we’ve seen how surprisingly these things can spring up: governments in Tunis and Cairo caught off guard, the first unsuspecting of unrest and the second skeptical that it would spread across the border into a traditionally stable Egypt. Then, sensing that things might get rough in their own countries, Jordan and Yemen’s governments start promising reform, hoping to head off popular pressure once it becomes predictable. I don’t know about you, but that’s some fairly useful insight gained from social science theories—especially rigorous logical models of the kind our friend at AEI disparages—wouldn’t you think?