Selection Effects



The relationship between theoretical explanations and empirical tests is better addressed by considering an example of why nations increase international crises. Hypothetically, strategic explanation choice outperforms nonstrategic explanation of crisis behaviors. Unlike strategic explanation choice theory, nonstrategic explanations, empirical tests, such as standard econometric techniques, do not adequately deal with censoring (Smith 1255). According to strategic explanation theory, actors in international relations make their decision based on how they anticipate other actors to behave. In other words, the behavior of one international actor cannot be considered in isolation from the other actors’ behaviors (Smith 1255).

Strategic explanation choice focuses on why political actors choose a particular decision over the other. It is found that the consequences of an actor’s decisions remain unobserved because an actor always tries to avoid such consequences (Smith 1255). Strategic choice theory can be tested by explaining the actor’s behavior - the dependent variable, and factors that influence the behavior of the dependent variable. Smith assumed the role played by a linear relationship between the decisions made by one actor and factors influencing such behavior in his claim (1255).

According to the strategic explanation of the choice theory, a nation A decides whether or not to threaten another nation B. If nation A decides to threaten B, then B decides whether to submit to A’s demand or resist (Smith 1256). However, if B resists, then A would decide whether or not to enforce its decision despite B’s decision. Consequently, the relative power of A and B influences their decision whether or not to use force. According to Smith, if a nation A is stronger than a nation B, then A would use her force to achieve her goals (1255). Nonetheless, since a nation B is aware that A is stronger and that B might lose the crisis, then, once threatened, B would surrender. On the other hand, Smith argued that if A is weaker, the crisis on B is not likely to occur because of the status quo (1257).

Failure of Traditional Methods

Traditional methods suggest that if the stronger nation (A) threatens the weaker nation (B), then nation B is likely to submit. According to Smith, B and A’s decisions are dependent, or rather their decisions depend on their relative power (1257). Since relative power cannot be measured, this theory is insufficient. Moreover, nation A can be weaker, but nation B fails to resist A’s threat despite being stronger than A.

Strategic explanation choice also fails because it assumes that, nation A (weaker) cannot threaten nation B. After all, nation B would resist, “yet nation B might just bluff and fail to resist” (Smith 1258). Empirical estimations are best suited when measuring known processes. Since the relative strengths of nation B and nation A are not known, empirical estimation would fail to explain how international actors would make decisions during a crisis. Smith asserted that censoring, which is under strategic explanation choice, best estimates the impact of strength on the use of force (1258). Strategic choice theory pointed that when nation A is stronger than nation B, nation B will submit. Similarly, when nation A and B are equally strong, then there will be various reactions, and finally, if nation A is weak, there will be no reaction.

Whereas strategic choice explanation is based on the assumption that nations behave strategically, other theoretical outlooks point out that decision-making during a crisis is nonstrategic. The strategic explanation theory suggests that the level of violence depends on the relative power between nations. On the other hand, empirical conclusions indicate that whether or not to enter into a crisis depends on the two nations’ decisions and not their relative power. Therefore, the power-based model is not sufficient in explaining crisis escalation among international actors.

Examination and Evaluation

To some extent, the strategic explanation theory helps beginners to understand the root cause of crisis among international actors. However, it fails to show how relative strengths between two nations would be estimated to conclude that the weaker nation will always submit to the powerful nation. Moreover, in a case where each of the two nations is determined to win the crisis, then, despite their relative power, they would engage in higher levels of violence.

Earn 15% from every order!

Earn money today! Refer our service to your friends!

Besides, theories of strategic choice missed the point that being part of a crisis does not only depend on the relative strength, but also on other factors like the preparedness of the two nations to use force and the cost of such crisis. From Smith’s perspective, it implies that one nation might be stronger than the other, but submit to threats (1262). On the other hand, the weaker nation might be willing to engage in the full fight despite its relative strength. Such incidence will depend on whether or not the stronger nation will back down. Overall, if the stronger nation returns the threat, then the strategic choice theory will fail immensely in its explanation.

Moreover, a weaker nation, A, might threaten the stronger nation, B. Smith claims that if nation A moves on and prepares for a higher level of violence, then nation B might end up submitting, especially if nation B is not prepared to use violence (1262). Such incidence might lead to observers overestimating the nation’s relative strengths. In such a case, theories of strategic explanation would have failed in its explanation.

Factors Influencing Nation’s Decision to Increase Crisis

Strategic decision-making shows that a nation would make a certain decision while closely anticipating how the other nation is likely to react. Besides, Smith claims that a stronger nation is always likely to win a crisis (699). Moreover, a nation will either submit or react to threats, depending on how it anticipates the opponent nation to behave. According to Smith, strategic explanation choice theory decision censors a nation’s use of power; this implies that there is an inverse relationship between power and actual force (699). The inverse relationship between power and potential violence is possible because a nation’s potential violence is unobservable. However, censoring does not occur in all cases. For instance, no censors occur in cases where the disputing nations are ready to engage in high levels of violence.

Often, the knowledge about potential violence might be less precise. For instance, a stronger nation might not be willing to use its power and, as a result, opt to back down. In other words, it does not only depend on a nation’s power but also on its decision whether or not to engage in a crisis. Moreover, models of strategic explanation choice assumed that anticipation plays a key role in the decisions made by international actors. This concurs with the previous assumption: interdependence. However, the relationship between nations, as discussed in this article, assumes a more linear relationship. In other words, a decision made by one actor depends largely on its power relative to the other nation.

The relationship between power and use of force is not linear, it depends on a nation’s decision whether or not to use its power, “this leads to failure of in standard statistical measures based on a linear model” (Smith 699). In some cases, weak nations might use more power than strong nations. In cases where a weak nation shows its readiness to use more violence, the stronger nation is likely to surrender. If this is the case, then the theoretical argument that stronger nations use more force becomes unjustifiable.

As discussed, the literature surrounding escalating crises among international actors can be explained by varied theories. However, the most fundamental theories include strategic explanation choice and empirical theory, as discussed in this article. The strategic explanation choice theory suggests that the potentiality of a crisis between two nations depends on the nations’ relative power.

This leads to cases where nations can either enter into moderate crisis or maintain their status quo. On the other hand, the empirical theory suggests that the relative power is linear; as such, stronger nations will always determine whether a crisis will start or not. This assertion is unjustifiable because the mere fact that a nation is strong does not imply that such a nation will easily resort to violence in case of crisis. That is, having the power and using it in violence are two different and independent issues.

Censoring determines whether nations will engage in high levels of violence. In cases where the weaker nation is willing to use more power, and that the strong nation decides to return, the crisis will escalate to higher levels. On the other hand, if the weaker nation decides to use power and that the strong nation is not ready to use its power, or rather consider the violence expensive, there will be no crisis. In other words, the two models are not sufficient in explaining factors that escalate the crisis at the international level. However, if strategic explanation choice theory and empirical theory are moderated, or rather incorporated with censoring, then they would adequately explain factors escalating crisis among international actors.


In conclusion, there are factors other than the power that are responsible for increased crisis among international actors. To carry out an intensive study on factors escalating crisis among international actors, will require integration of several theories. Interdependence and censoring, as discussed under strategic explanation theory, and empirical theories might lead to miss-specification of the extent to which certain variables influence crisis behavior among international actors.

Related essays