Book Preview: Why Minor Powers Risk Wars with Major Powers
Through a range of case studies spanning the post-Cold War period in Iraq, Moldova and Serbia, this book studies asymmetric conflicts where warring sides exhibit vast power differentials.
A few weeks ago, worldwide media headlines reflected on the political crisis that was unfolding in Venezuela. Significant international pressure, especially from United States, was aimed at Nicolas Maduro, the intransigent president of a strategically important Venezuela. On the other side of the world, regional tensions still persist between China and Taiwan. What Venezuela and Taiwan have in common is that their military capabilities are significantly overshadowed by the grandiose arsenals of the major powers such as United States, Russia, or China. Such power disparities in crises are not an anomaly in the international realm. In the past, Haiti, Bhutan, Syria, Vietnam, and Taiwan, to name a few, found themselves under similar pressure by one of these major players.
Sometimes, such brinksmanship can be managed. However, when the militarized crisis risks open conflict, most minor powers choose acquiescence, as the Haitian regime did in 1994.After all, between 1864 and 1870 Paraguay lost 85 per cent of its population in a war against vastly stronger opponents. Rationally, minor powers would want to avoid similar foreign policy disasters.
Naturally, when a minor power does engage in military hostilities against a major power, scholars and practitioners are left perplexed. As Chan stated, such behaviour “contradicts rational expectations of how a war is likely to turn out based on the unequal distribution of material capabilities between the belligerents”. So why do some minor powers remain intransigent towards major powers even when the immense costs of possible war are very clear?
Surely, scholars would have picked up on such puzzling behavior. And they have. Paul(1994), Fischerkeller (1998), Park (2004), and more recently Allen and Fordham (2011), followed by Berejikian (2016), Kim and James (2016), and finally Allen et al (2018) have all looked at the asymmetric confrontation in the international realm. They have highlighted the importance of different, but potentially complementary, conditions. I have decided to take the assumption of complementarity further by testing how combined effects of previously studied conditions affect a minor power’s choice. Moreover, I have focused specifically on the post-Cold War period, as it is possible that absence of rivalry between United States of America and Soviet Union influenced minor powers’ calculations.
My book, therefore, builds on previous research by testing several conditions on cases in the post-Cold War period. The following conditions are analysed: foreign support, window of opportunity, domestic crisis, regime stability and anomalous beliefs. As such, the book is not based on any one particular theoretical dogma but is rather driven with a desire to contribute to the intertheoretical dialogue, a framework that can be phrased as problem-driven pragmatism.
As a result of looking at all the cases where the power discrepancy was at least 10 to 1 in favour of the major power, the book initially utilizes Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), followed by three in-depth case studies: Iraq (1990), Moldova (1992), and Serbia (1999). The answer to the puzzle is by no means simple, but the underlying rationale is that minor powers choose conflict when facing a more important domestic crisis, and when either foreign support or a window of opportunity have led the minor power to think that the opponent would be constrained in escalating what was expected to be a very limited war. This simplified answer, however, opens a discussion on variety of issues, including the scope of previously studied theories, as well as application to current conflicts, such as the conflict in Syria.
The book ought to interest both academics and practitioners. The latter will be able to utilize results of the book to mitigate effects of conditions that lead to conflict. An assumption underpinning the book is that decisionmakers operate in a constrained environment. By changing conditions of that environment, likelihood of occurrence of conflicts of asymmetric nature might be lowered. Leadership of minor powers, and especially of major powers, can develop domestic and foreign policy measures that will head in this direction. Other states and actors, such as economic partners, business investors and non-governmental organizations, who monitor crisis developments, might gain a more comprehensive understanding of how their activities might be affected by changing political conditions. Experts and students on global security, in general, can benefit from understanding of conditions favourable to conflict and peace. With some of the international crises today involving minor powers, the book provides timely insights.