Committee: Alex Weisiger (Chair), Michael Horowitz, Ed Mansfield
Explaining Decisiveness in War
What makes a war’s outcome decisive? Although historians and military strategists have long stressed the need to strive for a decisive victory in war and political scientists have identified the unique effects of decisive outcomes in war, there is little agreement on what decisiveness is or how to achieve it during a war. In this dissertation, I propose a new definition of decisiveness as the degree to which all actors at the end of a conflict hold strong, similar beliefs about each side’s long-term relative military power. I argue that information drawn from experiences during a war can shape the beliefs of individuals on each side in several ways that differ from standard rationalist explanations. More consistent experiences over a longer period of time that directly affect a greater proportion of civilians, the military, and political leaders should make a war’s outcome more decisive and thus less likely to recur.