Two Main Theories About Negotiation Failure And War

Topics: CommitmentWar

There are two major theories on bargaining failures and war which are incomplete information and commitment issues that has led the United States, one of the world’s superpowers, to go to war with smaller states such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yugoslavia. Incomplete information is a situation in which actors in a strategic interaction lack information about other actors’ interests and capabilities. Bargaining between states often fail to resolve disputes because they are not aware of each other’s willingness and ability to wage war.

States often poorly asses another’s adversary values such as human, financial, and political costs. They often do not know of each other’s economic resources, size of military, military strategies or alliances, this unawareness leads the other to believe that they can achieve more through fighting, instead of settling for the other’s benefit. States are also unable to effectively communicate resulting in non-credible bargaining powers and threats.

This was a result of the war between Afghanistan and the United States, when the Taliban government had little doubt in President Bush’s threat but doubted the United Sates would be willing to bear the costs of war.

A second example is seen when Saddam Hussein threatened to invade Kuwait if demands were not met, the U.S. who protected Kuwait and Kuwait doubted Iraq mobilization. When the U.S. later threatened to invade Iraq, the threat did not seem credible because Hussein did not believe the U.S could bear the costs in bloodshed. The uncertainty of capabilities or resolve make it difficult for states to bargain and reach an agreement all sides like.

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The second theory is that countries suffer from commitment issues that stem from untrustworthy promises not to use force to revise a settlement later. Commitment problems arise when there is an absence of any enforcement mechanism that can hold one responsible for a commitment. Commitment issues come from three sources; goods, military capabilities, and fear. The dispute of goods can serve as bargaining power to make a promise less credible, bargaining over territory and weapons programs often lead to war as the gain of it can leave a country more powerful. Military capabilities can lead to a fault in promises, as fast economic growth and development of new technologies pose a threat. Economic development and acquisition of new weaponry cause a shift in a state’s capabilities to improve costs. Lastly, the fear of attack by an opponent with first strike advantage leads to another country to attack.

First strike advantage is when military technology and strategies or geography gives an advantage to offensive actions over defensive ones making a country fear their nonbinding agreement. In Yugoslavia there was a fear of unrest amongst the Slavic population causing an assassination on the Archduke by the Blank Hand terrorist group. Belglade failed to comply with Vienna’s demands which led Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia. The war could have been prevented by negotiated bargain and preventive considerations by both states. The fear of Russian expansion and first-strike advantage created a “window of opportunity” for Germany to attack. War planners believe the situation gave an advantage to whoever struck first. War arouse not only because of incomplete information but because of commitment issues between countries. Wars are caused by complex disputes between powers demanding one thing from another, lack of information and credibleness as well as commitment issues and fear of who will strike first.

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Two Main Theories About Negotiation Failure And War. (2021, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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