George Yin | Harvard University

Social barriers to bargaining in world politics

Scholars investigating the causes of war commonly assume that opposing parties are always willing to bargain. But opposing parties in international politics often refuse to negotiate. Why? I argue that status-driven actors who seek to establish or preserve a social hierarchy are particularly unlikely to resort to diplomacy to resolve their differences with foes peacefully. Bargaining is a symbolic interaction that over time transforms the social relationship between rivals into one of equals. Consequently, actors who seek to establish or preserve a social hierarchy pay a participation cost ? whether it is psychological or political ? to negotiate. The cost can deter bargaining even when status-driven actors value their potential gain from negotiation more than their anticipated "loss of face", because they fear that their opponents will leverage the costliness of re-negotiation and push them to make excessive concessions. Consistent with my theory, analysis of a newly compiled dataset on 454 terrorist groups shows that religious terrorists are on average 3.75 times less likely to bargain with states compared to secular terrorists, because religious terrorists often reject the political legitimacy of secular nation-states. The study has implications for understanding why ideological conflicts often seem intractable and the scope conditions under which the bargaining theory of conflict applies.