Diversionary Incentives, Rally Effects, and Crisis Bargaining

Authors


  • Authors' notes: We thank many colleagues for helpful comments on various versions of this project, including Matt Baum, Michelle Benson, Chris Butler, Dave Clark, Paul Diehl, Dennis Foster, Liz Gerber, Pat James, Kelly Kadera, Jim Morrow, Ben Fordham, Scott Wolford, several anonymous reviewers, and many others at Buffalo, Penn State and the 2009 EITM summer institute. Previous versions of this paper were presented at ISA 2007, Peace Science 2006 and 2007, and EITM 2009. Any remaining errors are our own.

Abstract

We do not yet have strong evidence that the rally effect motivates domestically vulnerable leaders to become engaged in international conflict. We draw upon mechanism design to argue that, if anything, diversionary incentives should be associated with a greater likelihood of being the target of disputes, though the conditions under which the result obtains are restrictive. Our analysis of all dyad-months involving the United States and its rivals for the period from 1956–1996 yields suggestive evidence of the unconventional behavior anticipated by our model, while failing to find evidence of patterns anticipated by either traditional diversionary accounts or strategic conflict avoidance. These results suggest that if we are to better understand international conflict by focusing on diversionary incentives, which may not be very useful, we should focus on the behavior described by our formal model rather than that anticipated by either traditional diversionary accounts or strategic conflict avoidance.

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