In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War

  • Introduction
  • Literature Surveys and Critical Assessments
  • Data Sets
  • Journals
  • Problem-Solving Bargaining

International Relations Conflict Behavior and the Prevention of War
Vesna Danilovic
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0139


There are two paradigmatic traditions for approaching conflict behavior in the context of war prevention. The prevalent perspective in the “mainstream” studies of international relations views states as bargainers using costly signals to persuade or coerce the other side into taking a preferred course of action. The aim is to avoid the costly hazard of war while maximizing one’s own gains. The literature is diverse but generally divided between those that highlight the coercive side of crisis bargaining and others who point to the efficiency of positive or mixed inducements, even between the gain-maximizers. On other hand, an alternative approach views the prevention of war as a problem-solving process between the disputants, often involving a third-party mediator. The goal is to unveil the underlying motivations and interests of disputants to find common ground for a negotiated settlement. This approach highlights different conflict management and negotiation techniques that facilitate communication, coordination, and trust. Both traditions address the same issues, such as bargaining and negotiation, conflict mediation, or third-party intervention during the dispute. They expectedly come to different conclusions about the conditions that motivate parties to refrain from escalating a crisis to open hostilities. If war does occur, however, the questions of when the belligerents are likely to accept peaceful settlements and what makes the ensuing peace durable again elicit paradigmatically different answers. The literature is vast in both research traditions, and this survey attempts to sample the most representative works for each, while also including both the classic and most recent scholarship on each aspect of conflict behavior short of war. These include crisis bargaining and negotiation, conflict mediation, the role of international institutions, adjudication, and arbitration in producing binding commitments, and the institutionalization of peace in the aftermath of wars.

Literature Surveys and Critical Assessments

The literature on conflict behavior has been surveyed in a great many professional publications; the selections in this section include the most recent critical overviews. Hopmann 1995 is one of the first statements about two traditions in the study of crisis behavior, one conceiving it as strategic interaction through coercion and the other approaching it in terms of problem-solving efforts. Jönsson 2002 and Höglund and Druckman 2013 update Hopmann’s discussion and also expand it to identify both of these research strands in related areas such as third-party conflict management. Mitchell and Regan 2010 surveys the state of the art in the studies of conflict mediation. The literature on conflict bargaining through coercive signals and commitments is discussed with great insight by Morrow 1999, whereas Danilovic and Clare 2010 focuses more closely on both crisis bargaining and deterrence. Both of these surveys also identify unresolved puzzles and promising areas for future research. The extant literature on postwar peacekeeping and the institutionalization of peace are extensively covered in Gilady and Russett 2002 and Fortna and Howard 2008, while Ackerman 2003 gives an overview of the studies approaching different conflict prevention measures both prior to and after wars.

  • Ackerman, Alice. “The Idea and Practice of Conflict Prevention.” Journal of Peace Research 40 (2003): 339–347.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022343303040003006

    Both historical and theoretical survey of the use of diplomacy in long-term conflict prevention. Systematizes the literature around major themes, including early warning, effective preventative strategies, and the role of international and domestic institutions in preventing conflicts.

  • Danilovic, Vesna, and Joe Clare. “Deterrence and Crisis Bargaining.” In The International Studies Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert A. Denemark, 855–873. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    Traces the evolution and outlines the most recent advances in the study of crisis bargaining and deterrence. Identifies major debates, research puzzles, and future directions toward a better understanding of conflict behavior. Concerned with a range of issues such as informational uncertainty, commitment and trust, positive incentives, domestic influences, and nonconventional conflicts.

  • Fortna, Virginia Page, and Lise Morjé Howard. “Pitfalls and Prospects in the Peacekeeping Literature.” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (2008): 283–301.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.9.041205.103022

    A survey of three waves in the peacekeeping research, first arising during the Cold War, the second in its immediate aftermath, and the third at the onset of the 21st century. The most recent work directed toward more rigorous empirical research but also reveals a number of unresolved issues such as those concerning peace enforcement and the forms of transitional administrations.

  • Gilady, Lilach, and Bruce Russett. “Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution.” In Handbook of International Relations. Edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse, and Beth A. Simmons, 392–408. London: SAGE, 2002.

    Places the study of mediation within the Kantian tradition in conflict and peace research. Informed by the three rationalist approaches identified by Fearon 1995 (cited under Signaling and Punishment Strategies), focuses on the arguments about the prospects of mediation when there is uncertainty about the other side’s preferences, issues are indivisible, and in situations characterized by commitment and enforcement problems.

  • Höglund, Kristine, and Daniel Druckman. “Making Peace through Negotiation.” In Handbook of Research on Negotiation. Edited M. Olekalns and W. L. Adair, 416–444. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4337/9781781005903

    Extant research is discussed concerning the process of negotiation, followed by the state of the art in the research in peace implementation and durability. Detailed comparisons between bargaining and problem-solving traditions regarding the problems of trust, communication, mediation, and managing violence.

  • Hopmann, P. Terrence. “Two Paradigms of Negotiation: Bargaining and Problem Solving.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 542 (1995): 24–47.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716295542001003

    Early attempt to compare two paradigmatic approaches to conflict behavior and resolution, one rooted in the strategic bargaining studies and rational choice theory, and the other oriented toward bargaining as a problem-solving negotiation process.

  • Jönsson, Christer. “Diplomacy, Bargaining and Negotiation.” In Handbook of International Relations. Edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse, and Beth A. Simmons, 212–235. London: SAGE, 2002.

    An integrative approach in reviewing the literature from the coercive bargaining and problem-solving traditions. Instead of juxtaposing these two traditions, comparatively integrates their research about the role of power, side-effects, uncertainty, multilateralism, and other issues in bargaining and negotiation. Also includes an overview of diplomatic studies.

  • Mitchell, Sara McLaughlin, and Patrick M. Regan. “Conflict Management.” In The International Studies Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Edited by Robert A. Denemark, 499–514. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    A comprehensive survey of the classic and recent works in the area of conflict management, including the issues of the negotiator’s characteristics, international and domestic context of negotiation, and conflict management techniques.

  • Morrow, James D. “The Strategic Setting of Choices: Signaling, Commitment, and Negotiation in International Politics.” In Strategic Choice and International Relations. Edited by David A. Lake and Robert Powell, 77–114. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

    A critical and analytical discussion of the role of signals, commitments, and information in the coercive bargaining tradition. Focused on the central issues and debates in the literature and also includes the author’s original contribution toward resolving major research puzzles.

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