The Laws of Neutrality in War – Redux

I’m currently on the way to UC Merced to present the same paper I gave at Maryland last week, so I won’t belabor this, because I haven’t gotten around to incorporating last week’s (excellent) feedback yet. However, I’m pretty excited at the prospect of getting feedback on such an early project twice in such quick succession. Just to make sure this isn’t just so much airport-terminal-boredom-blogging, I’ll keep it short.

That said, it’s worth noting that, when it comes to my WWI course next fall, the German decision to violate Belgian neutrality will certainly play a large part, not because it’s a notable violation of neutrality but because my theory doesn’t see it as a failure of the laws of neutrality per se (even if it is a failure, so to speak, of legal deterrence). Rather, the law might’ve done a very important job by making British intervention easier than it would’ve been otherwise.

Yep. The laws of neutrality might be successful even when they’re violated, and even when the countries ostensibly “punishing” violations care very little about the principle of neutrality.

For the details, I’ll just point you to the paper (generally updated) on this page.

In the meantime, I’ve got some local Minnesotan beer to sample…

Texas Triangle Post-Mortem and UVA Slides

I got some great feedback on my coalitions and signaling paper at the Texas Triangle conference a few weeks ago (it looks like I’ve not even posted since then), and I’ve spent the time since editing, revising, and prepping the paper for another talk Monday at UVA. Biggest mistake I made in the first version? I didn’t realize that I had coalitions forming endogenously in the model the whole time, and explaining that would’ve obviated some questions from the crowd [Way to go, Scott. –Ed.], but things look a bit better at this point, and I’ll be excited to see what a new set of eyes think about it.

I’m not posting the paper yet, but here’s the current draft of the slides I’ll be using on Monday. Broadly speaking, the points are similar to the previous version, if a little more refined:

  1. Skittish coalition partners disincentivize bluffing against strong targets, reducing the probability of war.
  2. However, they raise the probability of war against weaker targets by discouraging costly mobilizations that would reveal resolve.
  3. Acting unilaterally can be a signal of resolve, but it requires abandoning potential coalition partners.

So we have what seems to be a nonobvious interaction between intra-coalitional politics and the strength of the coalition’s target, and we have a new way of thinking about the “watered down” or “weak” threats that coalitions often (as they do in this model) form around: while they sometimes prevent the revelation of resolve, they can at other terms be a sign that states have chosen not to engage in the kinds of bluffing that would otherwise risk war.

More to follow, including a draft of the paper, after the talk and another round of revisions…