Military Coercion in Interstate Crises

Branislav L. Slantchev

American Political Science Review, Vol. 99, No. 4. (November, 2005), pp. 533-547.


Military mobilization simultaneously sinks costs because it must be paid for regardless of the outcome, and ties hands because it increases the probability of winning should war occur. Existing studies neglect this dualism and cannot explain signaling behavior and tacit bargaining well. I present a formal model that incorporates both functions and show that many existing conclusions about crisis escalation have to be qualified. Contrary to models with either pure sunk costs or tying-hands signaling, bluffing is possible in equilibrium. General monotonicity results that relate the probability of war to an informed player's expected payoff from fighting do not extend to this environment with its endogenous distribution of power. Peace may involve higher military allocations than war. Rational deterrence models also assume that a commitment either exists or does not. Extending these, I show how the military instrument can create commitments and investigate the difficulties with communicating them.


commitment, tie-hands, sink costs, mobilization, crisis bargaining