Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 15 > Issue 3

Rational Quagmires: Attrition, Learning, and War

Colin Krainin, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Department of Politics, Princeton University, USA, colinkrainin@gmail.com , Caroline Thomas, Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin, USA, caroline.thomas@austin.utexas.edu , Thomas Wiseman, Department of Economics, University of Texas at Austin, USA, wiseman@austin.utexas.edu
Suggested Citation
Colin Krainin, Caroline Thomas and Thomas Wiseman (2020), "Rational Quagmires: Attrition, Learning, and War", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 15: No. 3, pp 369-400. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00018008

Publication Date: 06 Jul 2020
© 2020 C. Krainin, C. Thomas and T. Wiseman
International relations,  Civil conflict,  Formal modelling,  Game theory
Game theoryinternational relationsinternational securitywarcivil conflict


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Example: A Quagmire 
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Summary and Discussion 


We argue that asymmetric information can cause long wars. We present a bargaining model of war between unequal opponents: the stronger side ("government") is uncertain about the strength of the weaker side ("rebels"), which deteriorates during fighting. The model predicts that wars may be lengthy, as fighting alternates with settlement offers. Surprisingly, increasing the government's commitment ability or reducing uncertainty may make war more likely. The government may choose to continue fighting after early failures: it may become more optimistic that the rebels are about to collapse even as the collapse does not arrive, and it can increase its expected payoff ex ante by committing to continue a wasteful war. Our analysis helps to explain, for example, the U.S. experience in Vietnam.