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
The Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science and Economics
133 S. 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6215
Phone: (215) 898-7641

Nicholas Sambanis Chair
Alex Weisiger Graduate Chair
Daniel Hopkins Undergraduate Chair