Taking Sides in Wars of Attrition
by Robert Powell, University of California, Berkeley
Third parties often have a stake in the outcome of a conflict and can affect that outcome by taking sides. This paper studies the factors that affect a third party’s decision to take sides in a civil or interstate war by adding a third actor to a standard model of a war of attrition. The third actor has preferences over which of the other two actors wins and for being on the winning side if it takes sides. The third party also gets a payoff lasting as long as the fighting does. This payoff is positive when fighting is profitable and negative when fighting is costly. The paper makes four main contributions: It provides a theoretical framework for analyzing the effects intervention on the duration and outcome of a conflict. It identifies strong pressures that tend to make alignment decisions unpredictable and coalitions dynamically unstable. It shows how changes in various factors affect the chances that the third party will join one side or the other. Finally, the analysis has implications for empirical efforts to estimate the effects of intervention, showing there may be significant problems with current approaches.