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The Strategic Consequences of Military Quagmires: An Examination of War-weariness Theory


The purpose of this dissertation is to develop an improved theoretical understanding of how enduring a military quagmire is likely to influence a state's subsequent conflict decisions. Building upon previous scholarship on war-weariness and foreign policy learning, I have conducted comparative case studies examining how the Korean, Vietnam, and Soviet-Afghan wars affected the propensities of the United States and Soviet Union to use military force in the aftermath of each respective conflict. Those case studies suggest that quagmires typically generate competing impulses within societies. They increase many individuals' inclination to resolve international disputes through diplomacy rather than military force. At the same time, however, such conflicts often compel others to reassert their country's power and determination to combat threats to its interests. Which of those impulses predominates depends upon the strategic and political context of specific crises. Quagmires are thus likely to exert marginal influence over states' decisions on whether to use military force. Moreover, that influence is not unidirectional. Such conflicts are likely to diminish states' inclination to intervene in peripheral, intra-state conflicts. At the same time, however, quagmires may often increase those same states' propensity to combat acts of international aggression--particularly those that threaten vital interests. Even in cases in which states are compelled to use military force, however, a recent quagmire is likely to influence how they do so. To allay public concerns that new hostilities could devolve into another quagmire, leaders will be more likely to combat security threats with proxy forces and standoff strike capabilities in lieu of ground troops.

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