What determines the duration of war? Insights from assessment strategies in animal contests.
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Interstate wars and animal contests both involve disputed resources, restraint and giving up decisions. In both cases it seems illogical for the weaker side to persist in the conflict if it will eventually lose. In the case of animal contests analyses of the links between opponent power and contest duration have provided insights into what sources of information are available to fighting animals. I outline the theory of information use during animal contests and describe a statistical framework that has been used to distinguish between two strategies that individuals use to decide whether to persist or quit. I then apply this framework to the analysis of interstate wars. War duration increases with the power of winners and losers. These patterns provide no support for the idea that wars are settled on the basis of mutual assessment of capabilities but indicate that settlement is based on attrition. In contrast to most animal contests, war duration is as closely linked to the power of the winning side as to that of the losing side. Overall, this analysis highlights a number of similarities between animal contests and interstate war, indicating that both could be investigated using similar conceptual frameworks.
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