Hyun-Binn Cho

Ph.D. Student in International Relations


Dissertation Title: Tying the Adversary’s Hands: Crises, Provocation, and Inadvertent War 

Committee: Avery Goldstein (Chair), Michael C. Horowitz, Alex Weisiger

Summary: My dissertation explains unwanted crisis escalation and conflict with a novel theory of provocation. Existing studies on unwanted crisis escalation focus on the role of accidents, misunderstandings/misperceptions, and miscalculations of resolve. My theory, in contrast, outlines a logic of provocation that operates as a distinct causal mechanism of crisis escalation. This logic, moreover, ties several existing notions of provocation into a single, unified framework and highlights an overlooked causal pathway to the outbreak of costly war. To test my theory at the individual- and public-levels, I conduct a survey experiment. Based on the findings, I develop three formal, game-theoretic models of interstate crisis bargaining that analyze how the logic of provocation affects crisis outcomes in different strategic settings: a naval blockade/tripwire, the deliberate use of provocation to signal resolve, and military skirmishes/‘gray zone’ conflicts. I then show that the logic of provocation can be a significant driver of escalation in real crises by examining the Sino-India War of 1962 and the Sino-Soviet border conflict of 1969 using primary Chinese sources. In the conclusion, I draw three policy implications for coercive diplomacy and discuss them in the context of the South China Sea today.

University of Pennsylvania
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Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Anne Norton Chair
Matthew Levendusky Graduate Chair
Marc Meredith Undergraduate Chair