Associate Professor of Political Science Alexandre Debs has a new article in the American Journal of Political Science.
“Mutual Optimism and War, and the Strategic Tensions of the July Crisis”
“Is mutual optimism a rationalist explanation for war? Countries are mutually optimistic if they have incompatible beliefs about the balance of power. Private information may fuel such beliefs, but it is unclear how rational countries could maintain incompatible beliefs if favorable information motivates a decision to fight, once countries incorporate their understanding of equilibrium strategies and later observe their enemy’s decision to fight. I show that if countries have multiple reasons to fight—a favorable signal about the balance of power and a high resolve for the issue in dispute—then rational enemies can hold incompatible beliefs about the balance of power because an enemy’s preference for war may not come from a favorable signal. Rational countries may even celebrate such an announcement, if it helps justify their own decision to fight. I discuss the implications of this argument for the causes of the First World War.”