Does Private Information Lead to Delay or War in Crisis Bargaining?*


  • *

     Formerly entitled “War and Incomplete Information.” Because of space constraints, the proofs to all of the propositions in this article are provided in a technical supplement, which is available at the authors’ Web sites at and, as well the ISQ repositories at, and the Dataverse Network: For helpful comments, we thank Andy Kydd, Bob Powell, and Branislav Slantchev, and seminar participants at the University of Chicago, the University of Texas (Austin), Columbia University, Duke University, and UC-San Diego, and at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, and the Society for Social Choice and Welfare. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for extremely useful comments that helped us focus our arguments. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation (SES-0518185 and SES-0518945).


Many game-theoretic models of crisis bargaining find that under incomplete information, an initial offer is either accepted, or war occurs. However, this finding is odd in two ways: (a) empirically, there are many cases of an agreement being peacefully reached after a number of offers and counteroffers and (b) theoretically, it is not clear why a state would ever leave the bargaining table and opt for inefficient war. We analyze a model in which, as long as the dissatisfied state is not too impatient, equilibria exist in which an agreement is peacefully reached through the offer–counteroffer process. Our results suggest that private information only leads to war in conjunction with other factors that are correlated with impatience, such as domestic political vulnerability, exogenous obstacles to the ability to make counteroffers rapidly, and bargaining tactics that create incentives to strike quickly or that lock the actors into war.