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Slow to Learn: Bargaining, Uncertainty, and the Calculus of Conquest


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


If peace fails due to incomplete information and incentives to misrepresent power or resolve, war is supposed to serve as a learning process and allows parties to reach a mutually preferable bargain. We explore crisis bargaining under a third type of uncertainty: the extent to which one side wishes to conquer the other. With incomplete information and take-it-or-leave-it negotiations, this type of uncertainty is isomorphic to incomplete information about the probability of victory. However, with incomplete information and bargaining while fighting, standard convergence results fail: types fail to fully separate because there is no differential cost for delay. Wars correspondingly last longer while benefiting no one. These results help explain empirical differences between territorial versus nonterritorial conflicts and interstate versus intrastate wars.