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The authors analyze an agency model of political competition to examine whether conflict encourages hawkish behavior, and if such behavior can itself aggravate conflict. They consider situations of conflict between a state and an insurgent group, such as conflict over a piece of land. Negotiations are carried out on behalf of the state by a democratically elected leader whose ability and ideology are imperfectly observed by the electorate. A more capable leader can take a hardline position in the negotiations (i.e. cede less land to the insurgents) at a lower expected cost (modeled as the cost of continued insurgency) than a less capable one. Similarly, an ideologically hawkish leader enjoys greater intrinsic utility from retaining land than a less hawkish leader.
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