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Bargaining Over Power: When Do Rapid Shifts in Power Lead to War?
Unformatted Document Text:  commitment mechanism cannot be implemented—that is, when capabilities are not freely transferable. Constraints on the ability to transfer power, then, provide deeper and more specific explanations for the breakdown of bargaining than shifts in power. 2 Related Literature Rapid changes in power are potentially the most common explanation for war. Taylor (1954, p.166) notes that “every war between Great Powers [between 1848 and 1918] started out as a preventive war”. As a result, a very large literature has focused on the question of rapid shifts in bargaining power as an explanation for war. Organski (1958), for example, argues that rapid economic development driven by industrialization changes the distribution of power more rapidly than the existing international order, and hence leads to tensions. A related argument is found in Gilpin (1981). More recently, Morrow & Kim (1992), Fearon (1995) and Powell (1999, 2004, 2006) have provided more formal and general accounts for why bargaining might fail when relative power changes quickly. 2 All these works emphasize the idea that rapid shifts in power generate fear in the declining state—fear caused by the inability of the rising state to commit to a specific partition of the pie once the shift has occurred. Yet, none of these theories solves the puzzle specified in the introduction: if indeed rapid changes of power lead to inefficient conflicts, then why does the rising state not offer today concessions of capabilities that will reduce his expected power tomorrow? 3 To solve the puzzle, we need a model in which actors can bargain over power itself. Unfortunately, very few authors have treated power endogenously. Instead, the determinants of the players’ reservation point are typically taken as exogenous. In a dynamic game, however, power is a valuable object of negotiation, as it defines a player’s share of the pie in the following rounds. A notable exception is Fearon (1996) who, in 2 A historical survey of preventive wars can be found in Vagts (1956, pp.263-350); a good presentation oftheories relating power shifts and war is Van Evera (1999). 3 Fearon (1995) mentions this possibility, but does not elaborate 3

Authors: Chadefaux, Thomas.
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commitment mechanism cannot be implemented—that is, when capabilities are not
freely transferable. Constraints on the ability to transfer power, then, provide deeper
and more specific explanations for the breakdown of bargaining than shifts in power.
2
Related Literature
Rapid changes in power are potentially the most common explanation for war. Taylor
(1954, p.166) notes that “every war between Great Powers [between 1848 and 1918]
started out as a preventive war”. As a result, a very large literature has focused on
the question of rapid shifts in bargaining power as an explanation for war. Organski
(1958), for example, argues that rapid economic development driven by industrialization
changes the distribution of power more rapidly than the existing international order, and
hence leads to tensions. A related argument is found in Gilpin (1981). More recently,
Morrow & Kim (1992), Fearon (1995) and Powell (1999, 2004, 2006) have provided more
formal and general accounts for why bargaining might fail when relative power changes
quickly.
2
All these works emphasize the idea that rapid shifts in power generate fear in
the declining state—fear caused by the inability of the rising state to commit to a specific
partition of the pie once the shift has occurred. Yet, none of these theories solves the
puzzle specified in the introduction: if indeed rapid changes of power lead to inefficient
conflicts, then why does the rising state not offer today concessions of capabilities that
will reduce his expected power tomorrow?
3
To solve the puzzle, we need a model in which actors can bargain over power
itself. Unfortunately, very few authors have treated power endogenously. Instead, the
determinants of the players’ reservation point are typically taken as exogenous. In a
dynamic game, however, power is a valuable object of negotiation, as it defines a player’s
share of the pie in the following rounds. A notable exception is Fearon (1996) who, in
2
A historical survey of preventive wars can be found in Vagts (1956, pp.263-350); a good presentation of
theories relating power shifts and war is Van Evera (1999).
3
Fearon (1995) mentions this possibility, but does not elaborate
3


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