Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 15 > Issue

Rational Quagmires: Attrition, Learning, and War

Colin Krainin, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs/Department of Politics, Princeton University, USA, colinkrainin@gmail.com Caroline Thomas, Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin, USA, caroline.thomas@austin.utexas.edu Thomas Wiseman, Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin, USA, wiseman@austin.utexas.edu
 
Suggested Citation
Colin Krainin, Caroline Thomas and Thomas Wiseman (2020), "Rational Quagmires: Attrition, Learning, and War", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 15: No. . http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00018008

Forthcoming: 30 Sep 2020
© 2020 C. Krainin, C. Thomas and T. Wiseman
 
Subjects
International relations:International conflict,  International relations:Security,  International relations:War,  Civil conflict,  Formal modelling,  Game theory
 
Keywords
Game theoryinternational relationsinternational securitywarcivil conflict
 

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Abstract

We argue that asymmetric information can cause long wars. We present a bargaining model of war between unequal opponents: the stronger side ("government") is uncertain about the strength of the weaker side ("rebels"), which deteriorates during fighting. The model predicts that wars may be lengthy, as fighting alternates with settlement offers. Surprisingly, increasing the government's commitment ability or reducing uncertainty may make war more likely. The government may choose to continue fighting after early failures: it may become more optimistic that the rebels are about to collapse even as the collapse does not arrive, and it can increase its expected payoff ex ante by committing to continue a wasteful war. Our analysis helps to explain, for example, the U.S. experience in Vietnam.

DOI:10.1561/100.00018008