Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Classroom Activity: Shared Threat and Delayed Elections

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) about domestic politics helps us understand variation in the likelihood of international conflict. I focused particularly on whether the spread of democracy explains Europe's transformation from one of the most violent parts of the world to one of the most peaceful and how the the fear of coups and rebellion in Sub-Saharan Africa helps explain why there have been so few interstate wars there.

Miscellaneous Links (UPDATED)

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shared Threat, Executive Constraints, and War

You've perhaps heard that democracy and peace tend to go together. Closest thing to a law and all that. So, we've obviously got a correlation. The question is whether that reflects democracy \(\rightarrow\) peace or democracy \(\leftarrow\) \(z\) \(\rightarrow\) peace, where \(z\) might concern economic or geographic factors. Various attempts at resolving the debate have been made,1but my sense (based largely on what I've heard at conferences recently) is that a lot of people who are broadly sympathetic to these critiques still aren't quite sold.

One thing that might help move the conversation forward is the introduction of a clear argument for exactly how and why some third factor might produce a spurious correlation between democracy and peace—one that not only provides an explanation for empirical regularities that have already been established but points us in the direction of new ones we've yet to uncover. In this post, I analyze a formal model that I think offers us exactly that.2

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Classroom Activity: When Silence Says A Lot

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) on international institutions, specifically the impact they have on patterns of armed conflict. The first half focused on peacekeeping, which works better (under some conditions) than many appreciate, while the latter focused on how international institutions can deter bad behavior even if they lack enforcement power. The argument, which I previously laid out (in a somewhat different form) here, is that international institutions need not have the power to punish so long as the statements they make have an impact on the likelihood that someone else will do so.

If institutions issue reports condemning bad behavior, which they don't always catch, but never go out of their way to praise good behavior, then one might think that they only influence beliefs when they issue reports. But that's not correct, at least if governments are even weakly Bayesian. Every time a report is not issued about a given state violating international law or otherwise misbehaving, a little more information is revealed.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sanction Threats, Imposition, and Protest

If sanctions are to succeed as a tool of coercive diplomacy, they must impose real costs on the target. Yet, in most cases, they fail to do this—at least, directly. The economic costs tend to fall disproportionately on the average person, while the regime and its elite supports often find ways to benefit from newly emergent black markets. But might sanctions put pressure on the regime through some other channel? Say, by increasing protests?

There have been many attempts at answer this question, all of which have been plagued by serious measurement issues. The recent release of new data both on sanctions and protests allows for a more convincing analysis, which Julia Grauvogel, Amanda Licht, and Christian von Soest provide in this paper.

Classroom Activity: Gambling Over War

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) on information problems as an explanation for war—which I'd say is the most useful explanation we've got. The broad contours of the argument are pretty straightforward, but the full implications are not. (That's something of an understatement. As I've discussed a few times before, a lot of very smart people have made incorrect statements about what this argument implies. In fact, while I'll gladly admit we've hit the point of diminishing marginal returns, I still think there's a lot we've yet to learn from this way of thinking.)

This activity was designed to illustrate both the general point that war can occur as a result of states taking (optimal) gambles and also to demonstrate two less intuitive implications of the argument: states who expect to do poorly in war are not necessarily any less likely to risk war; and states who are fairly sure their fait accompli will provoke military resistance may still execute them, even if said resistance would cause them ex post regret.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Classroom Activity: Commitment Problems

This activity comes after students are to have listened to a lecture (slides) on commitment problems. The lecture focused in particular on how the anticipation of future shifts in power can create incentives for preventive war. After walking them through a formal model fleshing out the argument, I then discussed the role of preventive motives in the US Civil War and showed them that interstate wars have occurred more often historically when there was reason to believe that war in the current year would have a significant impact on the distribution of military capabilities in the subsequent year. This activity applies that same argument to a slightly different setting: the problem of rebel demobilization, which Walter has called "the critical barrier to civil war settlement."