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War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives.

War and Reason is an important book that merits special attention and dose scrutiny from the international relations research community. Using recent advances in non-cooperative game theory, Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman explore the theoretical implications of an "international interactions game" that is unusually suggestive of the "stuff" of international politics. The model's richness stems from an intuitive game structure and a broad range of distinguishable outcomes. As one might expect, particular attention is focused on two of the game's proper subgames. These (crisis) subgames occur whenever one state resists another's demand for an alteration of the status quo. Five of the larger game's outcomes are crisis dependent: capitulation (by either player) after a show of force, waging war on an opponent's terms, or bilateral negotiation. The remaining two outcomes are unique to the larger game: acquiescence by either player, or the status quo. As the authors assert, this game model "captures a great deal of international relations and extends well beyond the field of conflict studies" (p. 31).

A small set of plausible assumptions guides the analysis. Players (states) are assumed, inter alia, to be expected utility maximizers; they know the consequences of capitulation with certainty, but negotiation and war are seen as risky events with uncertain outcomes; states prefer acquiescence to capitulation.

More problematic is the assumption that the domestic cost of using force rises monotonically with the probability of success in a conflict. Were this postulate universally satisfied, one would anticipate very high political costs associated with relatively small events like the Mayaguez affair or the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, and far lower costs in more treacherous arenas. Also troublesome is the presumption that negotiations are always preferred to war. This assumption eliminates situations like the one that existed prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1941 the expectation that negotiation with the United States would be futile, or worse, led the Japanese to choose war.

But these are quibbles. Assumptions are best judged by their ability to generate interesting and empirically supported propositions. On this score, War and Reason excels.

The most interesting conclusions regard two competing sets of propositions deduced from the model. Little empirical support is found for what the authors term the realist variant in which no constraints are placed on the demands and counter-demands available to the players. Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman show that without such constraints the only rational (i.e., subgame perfect equilibrium) outcomes are the status quo and negotiation. Clearly, to explain the broad array of observed events, additional assumptions are necessary. The required restrictions on preferences are attributed to the vagaries of domestic politics. Significantly, strong empirical evidence is adduced to lend credence to the authors' claim that the domestic variant of the model is largely consistent with the historical record.

This is an important result. It proves logically, and demonstrates empirically, what many researchers have suspected all along, that is, that structural realism is largely indeterminate. Without granting license to disregard systemic factors or power relationships as many of the case studies make clear - it highlights the critical role played in international politics by factors that are either ignored by neorealists or relegated to the infamous black box. More important, by specifying the conditions necessary or sufficient to induce various outcomes, it helps to focus attention on the particular internal debates and domestic processes critical for understanding interstate interactions.

Almost as interesting is the discussion of the role that norms and beliefs play m averting international conflict. The authors are too quick, however, to write off the possibility of cooperation in prisoners' dilemma games. Contrary to Snyder and Diesing's finding in Conflict Among Nations (1977) that crisis games that share the structure of prisoners' dilemma normally end in compromise, they find that war "is more common when the conditions conducive to tit for tat are met than when they are not" (p. 142). Since the model predicts war under the conditions that are associated with this game, it is taken as additional empirical support for the underlying theory.

The problem lies not with the supporting evidence but with the definition of the game. As is well known, prisoners' dilemma is a symmetric game. Yet the preferences the authors associate with it are decidedly asymmetric. Specifically, in identifying a prisoners' dilemma situation within the larger game structure, Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman assume that the challenger prefers capitulation to fighting a war the defender initiates, while the defender has precisely the opposite preferences. It is easy to demonstrate that the (war) equilibrium of the crisis subgame is extremely sensitive to this asymmetry. (If the challenger's preferences are reversed and brought in fine with the defender's, negotiations are implied; and if the defender's preferences are altered, it should capitulate. In neither instance does war remain rational.) Thus, while the empirical findings should still be interpreted as corroborating evidence for the theoretical structure the authors advance, their conclusion about the unlikely possibility of cooperation in prisoners' dilemma games is open to debate. In fact, just the opposite conclusion can be drawn from the discussion of the "self-defense" norm which, like the standard rendition of prisoners' dilemma, is defined in terms of each player's preference for conflict (i.e., "punishment") over capitulation (i.e., the "sucker's" payoff). As the authors show, when information is complete, "if both parties to a conflict of interest are known to be prepared to retaliate if attacked, then cooperation or harmony is guaranteed" (p. 124).

The theory's organizing power is demonstrated in an enlightening explanation of why democracies, as warprone as any other type of state, rarely fight one another. Perhaps even more instructive is the empirical comparison of the game model with balance of power and power preponderance theories. (The hegemonic theories fare rather well; balance of power does not.) At times, however, the interpretation of aspects of these theories is puzzling. For example, Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman claim that preponderance theorists assert that system transforming wars must be large wars. A chapter length discussion of the Seven Weeks War, which is fascinating in its own right, is even devoted to illustrating the proposition that small wars may have major consequences. But the underlying claim seems strained. After all, power transition theory (Organski and Kugler, The War Ledger, 1980) admits the possibility of peaceful transitions. Why then should the authors be surprised that a transition war, especially an intra-coalition war, be limited? This objection aside, the game model's ability to more fully account for the outbreak of war than either power transition or balance of power mark it as a major theoretical advance.

What place will War and Reason hold in the scientific literature of interstate relations? Using Lakatos' criteria, the game model is shown to be superior to the decision-theoretic framework articulated in Bueno de Mesquita's The War Trap (1981). It is dearly the better book. Nevertheless, it is unlikely to have the same dramatic impact, simply because the War Trap came first. War and Reason will probably be thought of as a significant addition to a rapidly growing literature that employs axiomatic theory to understand international conflict and its resolution. It may even come to be seen as primus inter pares. But its influence will likely be modulated because the rational choice paradigm, now more than ever, constitutes a progressive research program with many of the characteristics of a maturing science. Under such conditions, revolutionary contributions are most improbable.

Still, War and Reason is an innovative and far-ranging work that redefines the state of the art and extends our knowledge about interstate conflict and cooperation. It is the most significant application to date of game-theory to the question of war and peace. In a very real sense, it actualizes the considerable potential of this methodology, not only to highlight fundamental questions about international politics, but to probe deeply into their solution.
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Author:Zagare, Frank C.
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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