This article addresses one small part of the war termination (or more properly war duration) puzzle. It poses the question: why do great powers persist in peripheral wars despite the diminishing prospects of victory and increasing military, political and economic costs? The answer to this question has clear implications for the development of international relations theory, the conduct of grand strategy, and the practice of international conflict resolution. Most studies on war termination have explicitly or implicitly worked within the rational choice paradigm. Offensive realism, which builds upon rational choice assumptions, holds that national leaders pursue aggressive external policies at times and in places that minimize costs and risk. Elite decision making generally adheres to the norms of bounded rationality. National leaders will weigh the costs and benefits of withdrawal or a continuation of the war, update their preferences in response to new information, and are sensitive to marginal costs and diminishing returns. This paper posits a different hypothesis.
Working Paper 97–06, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, June 1997.