Understanding War

What does bargaining theory tell us about common explanations for war?

Takeaway Points

  1. For unitary actor war to occur, you need both a grievance and a source of bargaining failure.
  2. Explanations for war that only give one of these are insufficient.
  3. Thus, saying “taxation without representation” caused the American Revolution or “colonial ambitions” caused World War I are incorrect. If these were the only problems the actors faced, they should have reached a bargained settlement.
  4. This means that most of the explanations for wars you learned in high school or history classes do not actually explain why wars were fought.
  5. Political scientists tend to focus on the sources of bargaining failure because they are far less idiosyncratic.