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Signaling for Spoils: War Termination Under Alignment

Brandon Merrell
Abstract:

When a coalition of allies approaches victory over a rival, the members confront a new task: dividing the spoils of victory among themselves. How can the shadow of competition over post-war spoils influence the allies' desire to either wage war or agree to peace with their mutual enemy? I present a model of this situation in which several allies can either fight or bargain with a formal adversary and must then apportion the opponent's concessions among alliance members. Because each ally seeks to obtain a larger share of the post-war spoils, coalition members have incentives to exagerrate their capabilities to one another during the initial bargaining period. As a result, the coalition can become overly optimistic about its aggregate power and may fight longer and harder than it would if each participant possessed accurate information about one another's true capabilities. The result offers a new explanation for why multilateral and civil wars are more durable and difficult to resolve than bilateral conflicts.