Known Knowns and Known Unknowns: Ambiguity Aversion and Foreign Military Intervention

30 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2012

See all articles by Charles Robert Butcher

Charles Robert Butcher

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago

Date Written: November 10, 2010

Abstract

Analyses of foreign military intervention have relied heavily upon subjective expected utility theory (SEU) to generate hypotheses and model military decision making. Ambiguity aversion is a robust experimental finding from the cognitive sciences showing that human beings systematically prefer gambles where the probability of winning is known, rather than known with some degree of uncertainty, even when the unknown gamble is technically sub-optimal according to SEU. This paper tests the 'ambiguity aversion' hypotheses against other leading explanations of foreign military intervention. Finding from logit analysis of foreign intervention in civil wars from 1960-2003 suggests that, at least in African civil wars, military decision-makers are uncertainty-minimisers rather than utility maximisers.

Keywords: civil war, intervention, ambiguity aversion, prospect theory, subjective expected utility

Suggested Citation

Butcher, Charles Robert, Known Knowns and Known Unknowns: Ambiguity Aversion and Foreign Military Intervention (November 10, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2028819 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2028819

Charles Robert Butcher (Contact Author)

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago ( email )

520 Castle Street
Dunedin, NSW 9010
New Zealand

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