Beyond parsimony: rethinking theories of coercive bargaining
Theories of deterrence and compellence incorporate behavioral and political assumptions. In all but the most transparent environments, the behavioral assumptions place unrealistic informational and analytical requirements on policy makers. The political assumptions misconstrue the process of risk assessment, exaggerate the ability of leaders to estimate the risks inherent in their threats and shape adversarial estimates of their resolve. These problems explain why deterrence and compellence can tail when practiced by rational and attentive leaders against equally rational and attentive targets. Some of the political and behavioral assumptions of deterrence and compellence are unique, but others are shared with other rational theories of bargaining. My critique has implications for these theories, and they are spelled out in the conclusion. I illustrate my argument with examples from American and Soviet decision making in the Cuban missile crisis.