My dissertation is entitled “Negotiation in War.”

I focus on the puzzle: What is the role of negotiations in the midst of war? Extant literature, often hampered by a lack of data, tends to treat war as a costly lottery or conceives of negotiations as a mere mechanism that gradually allows belligerents to translate battlefield outcomes into an appropriate agreement. Many implications of these works, particularly with regard to diplomacy, are not supported by the empirical record. This mismatch suggests that diplomatic bargaining plays a critical—but this far, largely neglected—role to bridging a wide gap between theories and histories of conflict. I introduce the core argument and contribution of the dissertation: Negotiations are a strategically used tool of war that not only settle conflicts, but also help to fight and potentially win them. I call negotiations used for purposes other than settlement instrumental negotiations.

I outline a theory on the costs and benefits of engaging in (instrumental) diplomacy in the midst of conflict. The most essential cost is the fear of signaling weakness to the adversary and other audiences. A major benefit, overlooked by international relations literature, is that instrumental negotiations may provide “breathing room” for belligerents to stall for time, relieve political pressures, and mobilize or regroup their military forces. I assert that increased institutional and normative pressures for peace at the systemic level, as well as highly imbalanced battlefield outcomes at the conflict level, help to decrease the signaling costs of intra-war negotiation. These conditions have two consequences: They grant beleaguered and unprepared belligerents greater latitude to use instrumental negotiations to accrue benefits in support of their war efforts; and they erode other parties’ abilities to distinguish good- and bad-faith bargaining.

I support this overarching argument in several steps using several new sets of data.

First, I address the existence and effect of changing systemic-level costs of negotiating during war. Most studies assume diplomacy to be costless, independent of history. I argue that the marked increase in institutions and norms promoting peace after World War II have diluted the informational and reputational costs to engaging in diplomacy during war, thus providing leverage to test for the effects of systemic-level costs. I use two original daily-level datasets documenting approximately 1,700 battles and 10,000 diplomatic events across all interstate wars since 1816 to produce statistical evidence that pre- and post-1945 wars experience drastically different patterns of negotiation during war. Before the Second World War, belligerents were far more reticent to negotiate instrumentally in conflicts, and negotiations tended to swiftly produce settlements. Increased institutional and normative pressures for peace after 1945 have decreased the informational and reputational costs of bargaining while fighting, creating a strategic environment that makes it more difficult to use diplomacy to screen for strength and/or signal weakness. Consequently, post-1945 wars feature far more frequent, unproductive, and instrumental negotiations.

General propensity to negotiate over total duration of war, produced using kernel regression smoothing.

General propensity to negotiate over total duration of war, produced using kernel regression smoothing.

Second, I analyze how shifting costs and benefits in the midst of hostilities influence the use of negotiation as a tool of war. I focus on post-1945 conflicts to assess the existence, causes, and effects of instrumental negotiations. I use my new daily-level battle and diplomatic data to show several patterns consistent with instrumental negotiations and contrary to or unexplored by most current theories. A key finding is that negotiations that occur when fighting outcomes are imbalanced strongly tend to prolong conflicts. These talks are also associated with a temporary decrease in the number of contemporaneous battles and a shift in subsequent fighting outcomes in favor of war targets that were unprepared for major conflict.

Third, I pair historical analysis with new quantitative evidence from the Korean War to explore the relationship between fighting and bargaining with greater exactitude. Scholars typically treat the last two years of the war as stagnant and do not explain the dynamics of this conflict well. Using text-based, machine learning, and statistical methods on 1,090 digitized daily military operations reports and 2,000 pages of negotiation transcripts, I show that imbalanced outcomes involving important objectives are more likely to result in instrumental negotiations. Pushing against contemporary literature, this study also speaks to the importance of treating the costs of combat as endogenous to the conflict.


Types of statuses in United Nations Command daily operations reports.

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.


One example plot, using the new data to reflect fighting and bargaining patterns in the Iran-Iraq War.

A paper-form distillation of my dissertation, focused on the second stage of my argument, is available here.