Rationalist Experiments on War
Political Science Research and Methods. DOI: 10.1017/psrm.2015.24
39 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 14 Dec 2015
Date Written: 2011
Private information and the commitment problem are central to the rationalist theory of war, but causal evidence is scarce, as rationalist explanations for war are difficult to test with observational data. I design laboratory experiments to isolate the effects of private information and the commitment problem on the risk of conflict. I find that the commitment problem sharply increases the incidence of conflict, but there is no significant difference in conflict incidence with or without private information in the shadow of shifting power. I also investigate the realism of the positive experimental results with a case study of Japan's decision-making on the eve of the Pacific War. The permutation of formal, experimental and historical methods applies the strength of one method to compensate for the weakness of another. Convergent results from the different methods strengthen the causal inference.
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