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Armed Confrontations, Irrevocable Decisions, and Stability in Conflict

Frontiers of Peace Economics and Peace Science

ISBN: 978-0-85724-701-8, eISBN: 978-0-85724-702-5

ISSN: 1572-8323

Publication date: 24 May 2011


Decisions to initiate conflict often have an irrevocable character. They tend to transform the status quo in ways that it is often foreseen only with difficulty beforehand, and this change is then mostly impossible to undo. The sentence attributed to Colin Powell talking to President Bush about the Iraq War, “You break it, you own it,” illustrates the issue quite well. Closely linked to irrevocability is the issue of conflict costs. The uncertainty about conflicts and wars is due not only to the identity of the eventual winner but also to the costs inflicted upon the parties including the victorious ones. Often, prospective losers such as Napoleon and Hitler were initial winners who were in the end defeated by an accumulation of war costs they could not master.11There is some evidence that Napoleon, and then Hitler, were driven by increasing needs to absorb more and more territories. Clearly, Napoleon sold Louisiana to Jefferson to replenish his war chest and Hitler pillaged the central banks of conquered countries to support German military expenses. It is mostly the sunk costs associated with war that account for the irrevocability problem. Unfortunately, the literature on the formal analysis of war has not dealt with this matter, representing instead conflict as involving fixed costs or fixed cost expectancies at the onset. Additional cost estimates that should be taken by a decision-maker due to possible failures or irreversibility of actions are not considered. This is nowhere more evident than in the so-called bargaining model of conflict and war, whose numerous sometimes hidden assumptions have to be discussed and analyzed. The goal of this paper is to show that irrevocable decisions add to the cost of making them. Belligerent parties often have a tendency to minimize these especially, and this is an interesting twist of the analysis of irrevocable decision-making, if estimations of the gains of war are made on the basis of risk neutral expected utility calculations. The latter consideration leads me then to formulate alternative theories of war and conflict under the assumption of rationality.


Luterbacher, U. (2011), "Armed Confrontations, Irrevocable Decisions, and Stability in Conflict", Chatterji, M., Bo, C. and Misra, R. (Ed.) Frontiers of Peace Economics and Peace Science (Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development, Vol. 16), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-18.



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