Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms’ length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?
Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.
In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace—but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.
That’s essentially the question Steve Saideman asked here (and which he more explicitly asked on Twitter).
His answer, which I find problematic, is
But here is the big problem in all of this: perhaps much of IR is not about bargaining and persuasion about commitment and resolve. Perhaps much of IR is a conflict of interests, and that countries engage in conflict when their various interests cannot be resolved.
He goes on to say
The amateur game theorist might want to argue that this then is not chicken or prisoner’s dilemma but deadlock. And they would probably be right–that much of what is important in IR is what shapes the preferences of the actors, which determines the game being played. I guess my main point is that much of the time, we are not playing chicken, so perhaps Schelling’s insights might not be all that useful and could even be counter-productive.
Notice how Steve implicitly assumes that either Schelling is God or bargaining is irrelevant or even impossible. As Steve might say, if he found himself on the other side of the discussion, “Holy mother of false dichotomies, Batman! Time for some perspective sauce!”
OK, so I’ve been bit pessimistic of late — an impending war between Israel and Iran, the rise of religious fundamentalisms around the globe, Bosnia’s leadership taking the country back to the brink, etc…. But here’s an upbeat story. I helped Steve Nemsick and Jane Applegate a bit on their new documentary about Andrew Garrod’s work with Youth Bridge Global in the southern Bosnia-Herzegovina city of Mostar. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Mostar in the past several years and I’ve lectured at both Mostar “”East” and Mostar “West” universities. The students really are hungry for an end to the ethnic politics of the Balkans. If there is a lasting solution to the problems in the region, it will likely be with the help of these students.