Revenge, proportionality, and international relations
Mobley, Kayce Marie
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Proportionality, or the balancing of response to trigger in the context of international conflict, has long functioned as a norm within the just war tradition and international law. Despite this standard of behavior, states still occasionally overreact to crisis triggers with disproportionate responses. Scholars have attempted to explain these overreactions through the lenses of strategy and domestic politics, but these varied efforts largely do not engage each other and, furthermore, do not engage the alternative lens of emotion. This dissertation addresses this dearth by exploring disproportionate responses through the concept of revenge. After the first chapter introduces the project, the second chapter reviews and critiques the existing literature, first accounting for the status of proportionality as a norm within international law and then assessing the existing explanations for disproportionate responses. It concludes by pointing towards the path forward in evaluating state overreactions in international crises – a cognitive explanation. The third chapter addresses this challenge by engaging the lens of revenge through theories of group identity and behavior; I argue that states are more likely to pursue revenge through disproportionate responses when the initial attacks to which they respond violate norms surrounding the conduct of war or trigger greater perceived threats and fears. An exploratory quantitative analysis first introduces a new measure of proportionality and then provides preliminary support for this theory of revenge and proportionality. To test the theory further, I employ a most-similar-systems design with two case studies: the 1956-7 crisis over the nationalization of the Suez Canal; and the 2002-3 crisis regarding Iraqi regime change. Then, the fourth chapter uses the new quantitative measure of proportionality to address questions regarding the effect of disproportionate responses. The results show that, first, crises in which states engage in disproportionate responses are likely to elicit stronger US interventions. Second, the US is more likely to intervene against states that behave more disproportionately in crises than it is to remain uninvolved. Finally, the fifth chapter concludes the project by reviewing the findings from the earlier chapters and pointing to future avenues for research on proportionality and revenge in international relations.