Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Robert A. Gorman

Committee Members

Mary Caprioli, Donald W. Hastings, April Morgan, Anthony J. Nownes


The key question to be addressed in this paper is why weaker states with a slight chance of winning do not avoid war against stronger states. Even though most war theory does offer a few insights about the conditions under which weak states choose war when there is only a slight possibility of winning, explanations based on either emphasis on rationality or ignorance of “interacting structure” of international relations leave many practical remedies unexplained. This paper explains asymmetric conflict on the combination of Prospect theory and Game theory. The interacting game structure of asymmetric conflicts can be summarized. Under the threat of massive retaliation by a strong state, a weak state is forced to choose between war (defection) and withdrawal (cooperation). In asymmetric conflicts, defection (war against a strong state with a slight chance of winning) is a risky gamble, and cooperation is safe choice. In contrast to Expected Utility theory, this paper argues that weak states in a loss frame chooses risky war (defection) against a superior adversary in the hope of recovering from their crisis.

This paper follows crisis analyses of other Prospect theorists. The nature and seriousness of the crisis of a weak state are analyzed. The rare occurrence and deviant characteristics of a weak state’s war choice make it suitable to use a qualitative structured analysis. The research hypothesis is applied to three case studies: the Gulf War between Iraq and the United States-led alliance in 1990, the Falkland/Malvinas Island war between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982, and the Middle East War between Egypt and Israel in 1973. The implication of this study is that enforcing strategy based on superior capability is not a reasonable means to prevent a weak state in a loss frame from choosing war against superior adversary.

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