Exploring the Bargaining Model of War
By Dan Reiter
The bargaining model of war envisions the initiation, prosecution, termination, and consequences of
war as part of a single bargaining process.
What is the relationship between politics and war?
Carl von Clausewitz: should war be considered as part of politics—that is, politics by other means
The bargaining model of war sees war as politics.
International politics are disputes over scarce goods
The placement of a border
The composition of a national government
Control over natural resources.
Uses of the bargaining model:
To link the causes, prosecution, termination, and consequences of war into a single
theoretically consistent process.
Pointing to sometimes overlooked factors, such as disagreements over military
capabilities, concerns about the ability to commit to an agreement in the face of
changing capabilities, and the potential inability to divide up the goods at stake.
Disagreements over military capabilities,
Concerns about the ability to commit to an agreement in the face of changing
The potential inability to divide up the goods at stake.
Prediction that actors do not always use new information to update their beliefs; the
domestic-politics prediction that some leaders prefer to fight,
The Bargaining Model of War
Economics, “the allocation of scarce resources among unlimited and competing uses,”
International politics can be accurately described as the allocation of resources under scarcity.
The bargaining model sees the essence of conflict, violent or otherwise, as disagreement over
resource allocation and/or policy choice.
Explain the resolution of conflict among actors. When some good or resource must be divided
among at least two actors, bargaining is “the process of arriving at mutual agreement on the
provisions of a contract.”
International politics occurs among a small enough group of actors to make models of pure free
markets inappropriate; notably, oligopoly models have been applied to international relations.
Interstate cooperation: a bargaining problem, in that states negotiate an agreed-upon course of
action to advance the goals of all under conditions of scarcity.
International institutions facilitate bargaining by providing information and linking different issues.
Importantly, the very design of institutions can be understood as bargaining, as the skeleton of an
institution represents the distribution of finite resources (veto power, committee structure, voting
rules, and so forth).