Strength in Signals: Tying Hands and Sunk Costs in Military Coercion

Post, Abigail, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Sechser, Todd, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

What makes a state's threats more credible? That is, how can states demonstrate their resolve in a crisis? This paper employs new data to determine whether different tools of military force are more effective at demonstrating resolve in a crisis. The dataset decomposes demonstrations of force into land, naval, and air signals and subsequently evaluates their respective usage by states to bolster coercive threats. This paper evaluates how demonstrations of force with different levels of sunk costs and tying hands affect crisis outcomes. It finds that increasing levels of sunk costs do not affect crisis outcomes; rather, the mere presence of a tying hands element increases the level of target compliance. This study goes further than the current literature on costly signals in establishing that not only do demonstrations of force enhance threat credibility but also that different military demonstrations are equally effective in achieving crisis outcomes.

MA (Master of Arts)
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