Revealed Cost Tolerance and Power Asymmetries: The Reputational Consequences of Casualty Sensitivity during War

55 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2012

Date Written: August 14, 2012

Abstract

This paper examines whether combatants’ willingness to suffer casualties in pursuit of their wartime objectives has reputational consequences. I argue that those who are willing to suffer high casualties gain a reputation for having a high cost tolerance that helps them deter future challenges, while those who give up after suffering few casualties acquire a reputation for having a low cost tolerance which makes their potential adversaries more willing to challenge them in the aftermath of war. This is especially true when the combatants face weak challengers, because these actors tend to adopt strategies that specifically target the cost tolerance of their opponents. Stronger challengers tend to adopt strategies that target the military capabilities or war making capacity of their opponents, and are therefore less sensitive to new information about their adversaries’ cost tolerance. Thus, the reputational consequences of casualty sensitivity are conditioned by power asymmetries. I test this argument against competing hypotheses using data on casualties, war outcomes, and militarized dispute initiation from 1816-2004. I find that, as predicted, challengers with fewer material resources are more likely to target combatants that suffer low casualties in losing wars, while the behavior of challengers with more material resources is unaffected.

Keywords: Reputation, War, Balance of War, Casualty Sensitivity

Suggested Citation

McNabb Cochran, Kathryn, Revealed Cost Tolerance and Power Asymmetries: The Reputational Consequences of Casualty Sensitivity during War (August 14, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2129535 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2129535

Kathryn McNabb Cochran (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Downloads
65
Abstract Views
621
Rank
642,974
PlumX Metrics