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Models of Political Conflict in Weakly Institutionalized Polities

Level
Semester
Instructor(s)
Section
1
Number
239
CCN
25192
Times
Mon 10am-12pm
Location
SOCS151
Course Description

The international system or countries where the rule of law is weak are examples of “weakly
institutionalized” polities where political actors – be they opposing states or factions – can
often use force or the threat of it to further their interests. But the exercise of coercive power
poses an “inefficiency puzzle.” Because the use of coercive power consumes resources, the
“pie” to be divided after the fighting begins is smaller than it was before it the started. This
means that there usually are divisions of the larger pie that would have given each belligerent
more than it will have after fighting. In other words, costly conflict leads to Pareto-inferior or
inefficient outcomes. Why, then, do states sometimes fail to reach a Pareto-superior
agreement before any fighting begins?
Two answers to the puzzle are informational problems and commitment problems. The first
part of the course surveys bargaining models and information revelation during conflict. The
second part centers on commitment problems. Applications include explaining why some civil
wars last so long and tend to become all-or-nothing contests that are hard to resolve through
negotiated settlements; democratization, franchise extension, and transitions from
authoritarianism; power-sharing, coups, and revolutions; and building state.