A Theory of Power Wars

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This paper provides a theory of how war onset and war duration depend on the initial distribution of power when conflict triggers a reallocation of power but the loser is not eliminated. In the model, players take into account not only the expected consequences of war on the current distribution of resources, but also its expected consequences on the future distribution of military and political power. We highlight three main results: the key driver of war, in both the static and the dynamic game, is the mismatch between military and political power; dynamic incentives usually amplify static incentives, leading forward-looking players to be more aggressive; and a war is more likely to last for longer if political power is initially more unbalanced than military power and the politically under-represented player is militarily advantaged.

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