Explaining Peace in a Complex and Uncertain World: Multi-Dimensional Preferences, Great Power Rivalry, Diplomacy, and Peace Open Access

Scholars derive radically different predictions about peace, war, and commerce if they assume states are motivated by a single goal such as security, political survival, prosperity, or status. I develop a unified framework to study great power interactions under the assumption that states may be motivated by any one of these preferences. I argue that a state's foreign policy is determined by an interaction between its underlying motives and its historical context. For example, if China is motivated by restoring its borders, then it will prioritize acquiring historically controlled territories (e.g., Taiwan). In contrast, if China is motivated by revenge, it will want to inflict damage on past rivals (e.g., Japan). I integrate complex preferences into formal models of power transitions and crisis bargaining, leading to new predictions about private diplomacy, concessions, and war that depart from power-based explanations. Chapter 2 integrates heterogeneous preferences into a spatial crisis bargaining model. It shows that states can credibly communicate their core interests leading to more efficient bargains. But diplomacy has a dark side: when states coordinate on their core interests, they induce risk-taking offers that generate a risk war. Chapter 3 focuses on power transitions. Scholars expect that even aggressive rising powers will promise their intentions are limited to avoid competition. Why then do declining powers take cheap claims about limited intentions seriously? I argue that rising powers use private diplomacy to explain their underlying motives, not just the scope of their intentions. Declining powers rely on these statements to both coordinate beliefs about the rising power's core interests, and as a benchmark to evaluate future behavior against. Although they could ignore diplomacy, they prefer to evaluate whether the rising power's deeds and words are consistent. It explains why declining powers initially trust rising powers enough to make territorial concessions but then shift to strategic competition. It predicts when that shift will occur and explains why cooperation fails only in some cases. I furnish three types of evidence to support the argument in Chapter 3. I establish internal validity with an elite experiment that simulated a National Security Council assessment of an emerging threat and randomly assigns the content of diplomatic messages and military interventions. The subjects, 93 foreign policy experts, trusted the emerging threat when military interventions matched diplomacy and mistrusted it otherwise. To establish external validity, I test my core predictions against the universe of great power, power transitions through a medium-n analysis using a new dataset I developed. My theory explains just as many cases of war and peace during power transitions as the conventional wisdom about differential rates of shifting power. However, my theory explains entirely different cases. When I combine my theory of heterogeneous preferences with Powell's theory of shifting power, I can explain the full set of power transition cases. Finally, I process-trace my mechanism through the British assessments of the Soviet Union's intentions (1941-1946) using 6,000 declassified primary source documents, 21 diaries and memoirs and several history books. My mechanism compliments organizational explanations for state-level assessments but rules out psychological biases as an explanation for why leaders rely on private diplomacy.


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