Talking to the Enemy

Explaining the Emergence of Peace Talks in Interstate War

Why are some states open to talking while fighting while others are not? The co-authors argue that a state considering opening negotiations is concerned not only with the adverse inference that the opposing state will draw but also with the actions that the opposing state might take in response to that inference. They use a formal model, with assumptions grounded in extensive historical evidence, to highlight one particular response to opening negotiations — the escalation of war efforts— and one particular characteristic of the state opening negotiations—its resilience to escalation. They find that states are willing to open negotiations under two conditions: when their opponents find escalation too costly, and when there is a signal of high resilience that only the highly resilient care to use. To illustrate the dynamics of the second condition, the co-authors offer an extended case study detailing North Vietnam’s changing approach to negotiations during the Vietnam War.