Information, Diplomacy, and Strategy: Balancing Avoidance in Limited Warfare

Bakich, Spencer Dean, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Legro, Jeffery, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

Despite many differences between the two conflicts, the avoidance of Chinese intervention was a critical objective sought by the United States in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Only in the Vietnam War, however, was the U.S. able to achieve this war aim. While this variation in strategic success is an interesting empirical puzzle in its own right, the issue of preventing intervention in limited wars has broader significance for international relations (IR) theory and policy. In both cases, the U.S. attempted to prevent China from adopting the most acute and belligerent balancing strategy. Although balancing has been studied by generations of international relations scholars, the related issue of balancing avoidance has thus far escaped the analytical scrutiny of the field. This lacuna is surprising in that the incentives for both balancing and balancing avoidance should be strong in an anarchic and highly competitive international system. The ability of states to wield power without inducing acute balancing is critical to the success of national security policies, and to the prevention of undesired military conflicts. This dissertation introduces a novel institutional decision making framework focusing on the ability of states to design and implement intricate strategies in an environment where information overload is a persistent problem. I argue that states with robust information management capabilities, or information structures, will be better able to prevent acute balancing in limited wars, than will states with meager information management capabilities. States with robust information structures can more accurately discern the interests and capabilities of potential balancers, and are better able to translate that information into their limited war strategies. States with robust information structures can design limited war strategies that accommodate potential balancers' intentions and perceptions of threat. I test the information structure framework against two alternative approaches (realism and bureaucratic theory) in the Korean War (JuneNovember 1950) and the Vietnam War (January 1964-July 1965), and find that the information structure framework provides a more thorough and complete explanation for balancing avoidance than the competing explanations.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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