Emory Report

March 2, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 23

Werner studies the aims
of war and the cost of peace

As the United States averted another war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Suzanne Werner considered the scope of the possible battle based on each side's aims. Those aims, said Werner, assistant professor of political science, are not founded on tidy rules of war or motivated solely by a need to right old wrongs. Rather, each side is setting its aims based on what it believes it can achieve in battle.

"Despite an obvious desire for a new regime in Iraq, the United States is reluctant to make that an explicit aim of any renewed conflict," Werner said. "Although the U.S. is clearly the dominant power, the potential domestic discontent and the wavering international support ensured that its aims were much more modest."

Iraq too is likely to conduct the war in a limited fashion. Although any renewed war might begin as a bilateral conflict against the U.S., Warner said, "Iraq knows that if they use certain means of warfare, it could become multilateral." This fear will likely limit both the means and the stated ends of any renewed conflict.

Werner has found from her research on the terms of settlement that multilateral wars tend to punish the loser more severely. She argues that once all of the potential participants are actually involved in the war, there is no incentive to limit the demands made of the loser in order to avoid an expansion of the war.

While Werner's initial research focused on how wars end or the terms of settlement imposed on the loser, she has recently expanded her work to investigate the aims of war and how they change over time to affect both the conduct and the settlement of wars.

"When I first worked on the terms of settlement, I was thinking exclusively in terms of a bargaining framework and posited that the settlement would reflect the bargaining leverage of each side," Werner said. "Many people asked, 'What about the aims?' and wondered whether the settlements better reflected each sides initial aims.

The book she is working on addresses that question. Parties to a conflict make what she calls endogenous decisions. "We choose our demands based on what we think we can get." Aims change when perceptions of the cost of maintaining a war or ending it begin to alter. Those costs are not only in blood and materiel but include domestic political and international considerations, Werner theorized.

World War I is remembered today for its bloodletting, chemical attacks and punitive peace settlement. But the "Great War" actually began with modest aims. There were fairly equal power states at the beginning-England, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. The cost of starting the war was small-so the original demands were petty, Werner said.

Once the ferocity of the war became apparent, the stakes rose. "After you suffer all those costs, they're sunk costs," Werner said. "Winning states are under a lot of domestic pressure to punish the losers for the costs they endured. What I'm anticipating to see in my research is that many wars that ended big began over small things."

The political scientist also argues that the aims of the belligerents, and ultimately the final settlement of the war, reflect the degree to which each side needs a quick settlement. Domestic politics is often central to undertaking and ending wars because state leaders recognize that delaying settlements or accepting compromise settlements may have significant domestic repercussions.

In our time, the Vietnam War illustrated the centrality of domestic concerns. Democracy is a double-edged sword in warfare, Werner said. "Democratic leaders are under a lot of domestic pressure about the costs of a war." On the other hand, because democratic leaders are held more accountable than despots for a successful foreign policy, they feel pressure to win any war they've entered.

"In the early years of Vietnam, the need for a good settlement kept America in the war," Werner said. By the late '60s, the domestic costs were mounting, as more Americans came to believe that achieving victory would be meaningless.

Finally, Werner is looking beyond peace to see if a settlement provides tinder for a future war. "The bargaining framework leads me to anticipate that the settlement should be durable as long as the bargaining position stays the same." If there is a regime change or one party grows faster than another, the result could be renewed conflict. In Werner's view then, World War I led to World War II not only because the Versailles Treaty was too exacting but because a resurgent Germany in the late 1930s was now capable of altering the settlement.

Between enemies it's very difficult to bargain a lasting peace, she said. "The best guarantee of peace is putting a regime in place that has your interests at stake."

-David Holzel

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