Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Kadera, Kelly M

First Committee Member

Dion, Douglas

Second Committee Member

Boehmke, Frederick

Third Committee Member

Sanchez, Thania

Fourth Committee Member

Burton, Steven


This project investigates states' strategies in the management of contentious interstate disputes asking why disputants select a particular approach, or forum, to serve as the stage for negotiations. The conflict bargaining process reveals incentives to reach peaceful solutions to war, but peace may be elusive due to bilateral bargaining problems (Fearon 1995; Schelling 1960). In general, third parties provide a useful service in interstate conflict management. However, not all third parties equally benefit the bargaining process. Recent research especially points to the efficacy of legal dispute resolution, such as arbitration and adjudication. The robustness of these results over different types of conflicts and disputants provides a clear prescription for substantive dispute resolution: If states are sincere about peacefully resolving conflicts, then the best way to achieve that - in terms of probability of reaching a settlement and ensuring compliance - is to submit to legal management fora.

Despite the strength of this prescription, states rarely submit to legal dispute resolution. A majority of the time states, instead, negotiate bilaterally. Alternatively, they turn to one of the other, useful, but less effective forms of third party management, such as mediation. Drawing on these observations, the specific puzzle this dissertation addresses is why states avoid the types of conflict management that have been demonstrated empirically to be highly effective at resolving conflicts.

In response to this puzzle, this dissertation defines a conflict management forum as as a venue for the substantive settlement of interstate conflicts, which is characterized by three different features: transparency, decision control, and expectations about distributional outcomes. This definition then serves as the basis for two formal bargaining models that explain forum selection in interstate conflict management. Empirical implications from these models were tested through a set of three laboratory experiments conducted at the University of Iowa.

Through this series of theoretical models and experimental analyses, this project suggests that states select management fora that best balance their capabilities and interests. The features of a conflict management forum, which include decision control, transparency, and distributional biases, directly affect the outcome and long-term viability of negotiated settlements. States' ability to manipulate these features is an important part of the conflict bargaining process. In conclusion, the dissertation provides three answers to the motivating puzzle: States select management fora in order to balance power asymmetries and to enhance commitment to settlement, to identify focal points for settlement negotiations, and to break stalemates that could lead to violent breakdowns.


conflict management, experimental economics


xiv, 385 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 364-385).


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Copyright © 2012 Vanessa Ann Lefler