Mistrust, Misperception, and Misunderstanding: Imperfect Information and Conflict Dynamics
Building on theories of international relations, we analyze how mistrust (uncertainty about an adversary's preferences or capabilities), misperception (imperfect observation of an adversary's actions), and misunderstanding (non-degenerate higher-order beliefs) can lead to conflict and drive its dynamics. We develop our analysis in the context of three classic models: a one-shot security dilemma or spiral model; a repeated version of the security dilemma that allows for gradual learning about the opponent's type, as well as the possibility of conflict spirals, traps, and cycles; and a deterrence model. We relate these models to the empirical literature and to current and historical episodes of conflict.
We thank Jim Fearon, Massimo Morelli, Carlos Seiglie, and Tomas Sjostrom for helpful comments. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.