Dissertation Title: Tying the Adversary’s Hands: Crises, Provocation, and Inadvertent War
Committee: Avery Goldstein (Chair), Michael C. Horowitz, Alex Weisiger
Dissertation Abstract: From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the South China Sea today, scholars and policymakers have warned of the danger that coercive actions during crises might provoke inadvertent escalation and war. Existing studies on crises and escalation dynamics explain such outcomes in terms of accidents, misperceptions, or miscalculations, but leave the role of provocation and its links to the outbreak of war inadequately theorized and empirically assessed. Why might measures taken to coerce an opponent during crises have a counterproductive effect? Under what circumstances does such backlash overwhelm the intended coercive effect and result in escalation and war between countries that do not desire war? By developing a theory of provocation at the state level, my dissertation specifies a causal mechanism by which coercive measures during crises backfire and even lead to inadvertent war. Integrating this mechanism into the standard crisis bargaining model, I formally analyze how the logic of provocation affects crisis dynamics and when and how inadvertent war occurs by developing three game-theoretic models of well-known coercive military strategies: the naval blockade, the limited use of force, and the engagement of military skirmishes. To test the causal mechanisms that I theorize and illustrate their significance, I examine two cases in-depth – the Sino-India War of 1962 and Sino-Soviet Border Conflict of 1969 – and survey several other cases. My findings not only reveal the processes through which the logic of provocation can escalate minor accidents in crises to unexpected deadlock and conflict. They suggest that attempts to signal resolve during crises can result in inadvertent escalation and war even when accidents and misperceptions are absent.