Doctoral Dissertation Research in Political Science: In It to Win It? Domestic Politics and Signaling Long Term Resolve in International Crises

  • Palmer, Glenn Hunter (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Scholars have long emphasized the importance of resolve in international crises. However, the literature to date has largely focused on the intent to use force. This project seeks to shift the focus of arguments about resolve from the willingness to make good on one's threats to the willingness to bear the costs of a prolonged conflict. This produces new insights into the process of crisis bargaining, with implications for which conflicts are likely to escalate to higher levels of violence as well as the expected outcome of the conflict should it escalate.

Domestic politics serves as a useful indicator of when states are likely to be willing to bear the costs of sustained fighting. In democratic states, the behavior of the primary political opposition has a large impact on the costs a state is willing to suffer in war. Opposition parties will often support the government in the early stages of a crisis, even if they have every intention of withdrawing their support later. If they do oppose the conflict, the government faces a far greater risk of punishment for failure. A fear of future opposition could force governments to accept settlements early in conflicts, while they are still supported by the opposition, rather than risking continued fighting in hopes of better terms of settlement. Therefore, governments are more likely to end their wars if the opposition is currently supporting the conflict but that support is tenuous. On the other hand, once the opposition does oppose a conflict, governments actually become more likely to keep fighting, as their political fates are now more closely tied to the outcome of the conflict and they are forced to take bigger risks to avoid failure.

To assess these claims, a dataset will be compiled on the wartime position of the primary opposition party(ies) for interstate wars involving established democracies. Data will also be collected on battle fatalities over time within these wars. Using event history analysis, the effects of opposition behavior and facts on the ground on the duration and outcome of war will be estimated.

This project will produce useful data that can be used by other researchers to answer other important questions, such as what factors determine whether a war will be opposed, the effect of opposition on public opinion and electoral outcomes, and what factors determine changes in the relative rates of casualties. The results of the analysis here will be important, as they may help us better explain why democratic leaders often choose to continue fighting unpopular wars (as did the US in Vietnam and currently in Iraq) and why democratic leaders often end popular and successful wars early, when they could have pressed the enemy further (as did the US in the Persian Gulf War). This will help us understand the politics of war, and shed light on why leaders cling to failing policies in general.

Effective start/end date8/1/077/31/08


  • National Science Foundation: $6,248.00


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