My dissertation is entitled “Negotiation in War.”
I focus on one key question: What role do negotiations play in our understanding of war? Most contemporary scholarship on interstate conflict has not rigorously analyzed how negotiations in the midst of conflict can both reflect and impact battlefield activity. This choice to downplay diplomacy is largely a byproduct of data limitations, which have led scholars to adopt assumptions and methods that are not supported by the historical record.
My dissertation finds that these mismatches between theory and history are not trivial. I demonstrate that negotiations must be understood as a partner, rather than a mere reaction, to hostilities on the battlefield. Diplomatic bargaining does not simply reflect a belligerent’s response to battlefield outcomes, but is a costly and strategic choice that is heavily shaped by the international pressures at the systemic level and battlefield activity at the conflict level. Negotiations do not only end conflicts, but also contain and reshape them. In addition to this main argument, I also assert that quantitative studies of war have undervalued the notion that wartime costs cannot be treated as exogenous information, but are instead endogenous to the belligerents’ effort.
I support these points using several new sets of daily-level data. Two datasets track battlefield activity and negotiations across two centuries of interstate war; the other two measure military movements and negotiation behavior during the Korean War. These new resources allow me to analyze and test wartime dynamics in a manner that is intractable using current tools.
This dissertation is written in the form of three papers. The first two papers may be interpreted as complementary works that develop one larger argument. The third paper also speaks to the connection between the battlefield and diplomacy but is a free-standing piece.
First, in “Negotiations in War: The 19.45% Discount,” I explore how the post-1945 environment has affected the conduct and resolution of wars. I argue belligerents perceive large costs to negotiating, as they likely signal weakness. However, after 1945, a series of institutional and normative changes help to promote peace and stability. This increases external pressures to engage in negotiations, regardless of whether the belligerents are interested in a settlement. Such a change decreases the risks of signaling weakness and increases the costs of avoiding diplomacy. I use new negotiation data to show how the modern environment decouples the relationship between negotiations and settlements. In pre-1945 conflicts, negotiations tend to be infrequent and quickly end wars once they begin. In post-1945 conflicts, negotiations are far more frequent but also much less likely to terminate hostilities.
Second, in “Negotiations as an Instrument of War,” I focus on whether the frequent and ineffective negotiations in post-1945 conflicts (which do not align well with most extant assumptions and theories of war) reflect any deeper strategic logic. Extending upon the argument I establish in my first paper, I propose that post-1945 negotiations are often used instrumentally by external actors seeking stability and opposing acts of aggression–and then exploited by beleaguered war targets–to help contain conflicts and to nullify the war initiator’s first-move advantage. That is, diplomacy is not only used to settle conflicts, but also to control, fight, and potentially win them. I use my negotiation and battle outcome data to show that negotiations in post-1945 conflicts are linked to decreased likelihood of war termination, lower levels of fighting, and reversals of fortune in favor of the war target.
Lastly, in “Endogenizing the Costs of Conflict: A Text-Based Application to the Korean War,” I argue that the costs of war are endogenous to belligerents’ effort and can be used as a proxy for the strategic importance of military objectives. Therefore, higher casualties–particularly when they lead to gains or losses of strategic objectives–should be tied to lower interest in settlement. This stands in stark contrast to several quantitative studies of war that treat negotiations as a source of exogenous information that typically increases the likelihood of conflict termination. Using text-based, machine learning, and statistical methods on over 13,000 pages daily military operations reports and negotiation transcripts from the entire war, I show that gains and losses of strategically important objectives tend to result in lower interest in settlement.
My dissertation speaks to the importance of viewing diplomacy as an equal partner and counterbalance to—not a mere consequence of—fighting. This insight helps to reconcile many inconsistencies between theories and empirical evidence of interstate war. The new data also establish a substantial foundation for more disaggregated and rigorous quantitative tests of extant theories of war. They also provide a fertile ground for the development of new contributions emphasizing intra-war activity. Finally, this knowledge of war dynamics, not viable using current data and methods, provides crucial policy-relevant knowledge that easily applies to intrastate wars and conflict resolution more generally.