Playing With Fire: Provocation, Crisis Escalation, and Inadvertent War

Thursday, October 25, 2018
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
William J. Perry Conference Room
Encina Hall, Second Floor, Central, C231
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Hyun-Binn Cho

Abstract: Recent tensions on the Korean peninsula and in the South China Sea have raised concerns that provocative actions, such as the use of insulting rhetoric or military force, might trigger unwanted escalation and embroil the United States in a costly war. The international relations literature, however, is ill equipped to explain these escalatory dangers of provocation. There is no theory of crisis escalation that explains the escalatory mechanisms of provocation and there is no clear conception of what it means to provoke. This paper develops a novel theory of provocation that explains how provocative rhetoric and military actions can distinctively lead to unwanted crisis escalation and conflict. This escalatory logic of provocation can potentially explain a host of important crisis-related behavior other than explosive outcomes, such as how a relatively minor issue becomes salient and intractable to resolve, and how a state that was once willing to concede a stake in dispute stands firm to risk war. To further clarify the distinctive dangers of this logic of provocation, the paper contrasts three alternative logics of unwanted escalation that are referred to as an “accidental escalation logic,” a “security dilemma logic,” and a “crisis bargaining logic.” The overlooked importance of the logic of provocation is then demonstrated in a case study of the Sino-India War of 1962 which uses original language sources. The conclusion draws implications for coercive diplomacy.

Speaker Bio: Hyun-Binn Cho is a Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at CISAC. His research interests are in crisis escalation, coercive diplomacy, and security in the Asia-Pacific, with a focus on China and the Korean peninsula. Binn received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. Previously, he was a pre-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, and a visiting doctoral student at the School of International Studies at Peking University. He is proficient in Mandarin Chinese, fluent in Korean, and holds an M.A. in Political Science from Columbia University, an M.A. in International Relations from Seoul National University, and a B.Sc. in Government and Economics from the London School of Economics.