Paths to Peace: Domestic Coalition Shifts, War Termination and the Korean War

Paths to Peace: Domestic Coalition Shifts, War Termination and the Korean War

by Elizabeth Stanley

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Paths to Peace begins by developing a theory about the domestic obstacles to making peace and the role played by shifts in states' governing coalitions in overcoming these obstacles. In particular, it explains how the longer the war, the harder it is to end, because domestic obstacles to peace become institutionalized over time. Next, it tests this theory

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Paths to Peace begins by developing a theory about the domestic obstacles to making peace and the role played by shifts in states' governing coalitions in overcoming these obstacles. In particular, it explains how the longer the war, the harder it is to end, because domestic obstacles to peace become institutionalized over time. Next, it tests this theory with a mixed methods approach—through historical case studies and quantitative statistical analysis. Finally, it applies the theory to an in-depth analysis of the ending of the Korean War. By analyzing the domestic politics of the war's major combatants—the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and North and South Korea—it explains why the final armistice terms accepted in July 1953 were little different from those proposed at the start of negotiations in July 1951, some 294,000 additional battle-deaths later.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Stanley's book is the best scholarly analysis and revision so far of the bargaining model of war termination."—Colin Dueck, Claremont Review of Books

"Important book .... A most useful addition to the literature on the Korean War."—C. Potholm II, Choice.

"Why do some belligerents choose to end costly wars, while others continue to struggle over control of seemingly useless bits of territory while the death toll mounts? Paths to Peace tackles this timeless and timely question in an original, engaging, and rigorous way." —Jack Snyder, Columbia University

"Paths to Peace is an outstanding work on a very important subject—how wars come to an end. Well-informed and well-written, the book should be of great interest to all scholars and students of international relations and the domestic politics of war and peace."—Bradford Lee, U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI.

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Stanford University Press
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Paths to Peace

By Elizabeth A. Stanley


Copyright © 2009 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6269-4

Chapter One

Old Baldy

My insides felt like a thousand butterflies were still jumping around in there, and my legs felt like rubber. My mind was still seeing the picture at the top of Old Baldy as the shells burst among us, and hearing the sounds of Chinese bugles blowing as they came charging into our lines.... We would bleed and die for an ugly old hill that to the men in the trenches wasn't worth throwing lives away for, just so we could see Chinese movement to the north.... -Corporal Rudolph W. Stephens, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division (1995: 114-15)

Old Baldy is a mountain in central Korea, currently located within the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Old Baldy is no longer bald. Like many hills in Korea, it is covered with relatively young deciduous trees and evergreens, all grown in the last fifty years. Old Baldy earned its name during the Korean War, when intensive shelling obliterated all the trees and foliage on the hillside. At that time, Old Baldy's landscape looked like the surface of the moon, with many old craters from artillery and mortar rounds that had fallen there (see Figure 1.1). As JerryCiaravino, who fought there in 1951, remembers, "You knew why it was given that name. It was a big mountain of dirt with no greenery. There was just so much thrown at it that it was just dirt on the top. You were just glad to come back down after you were up there" (Nisbet and Moore 2002: 5). Similarly Corporal Stephens observes, "I believe the only things living on Old Baldy were men in the trenches" (1995: 141).

Despite its hard-won name, Old Baldy had no strategic value. There were no natural resources buried inside it, no major communications lines it overlooked, no major industrial center anywhere nearby. In fact, Old Baldy's only real value-a dubious one, at that-was height. At 266 meters, it was the tallest hill in the immediate area, dominating the terrain to the north, west and south, and it provided a good look-out over another infamous Korean War mountain, Pork Chop Hill. As such, the belligerent that controlled the crest of Old Baldy controlled the tactical situation in the valley below (see Map 1.1).

Except for this view down, Old Baldy was not important-not to Korea, and not to the ultimate course of the Korean War. Yet, for this view down, from July 1951 until July 1953, China and the United States fought so hard for this blasted, barren hill that, at the peak of the fighting, more than 1,500 men died there every week. During that time, the two sides also faced off in the negotiating tent, ultimately signing an agreement in 1953 that looked remarkably similar to the one proposed two years earlier.

Old Baldy changed hands eleven times during the Korean War, with units on both sides suffering massive casualties-often in fierce hand-to-hand combat. As Stephens recounts, the Chinese troops fought with "human-wave attack[s] ... [they] were dying like flies as they came on. They had the troops to throw away, and they would sacrifice them to win the battle" (1995: 119; also Hermes 1966: 293-95). As a result, as Ming Rose (1999) recalls, "the enemy was killing so many Americans that they had to be piled up like cordwood. Photographs of them were so gruesome that they could not be shown back home." Indeed, units were sometimes reduced to one-sixth of their normal fighting strength. For example, in a particularly costly battle in March 1953, both sides expended 130,000 rounds of ammunition in one night, killing 300 Americans and 800 Chinese (Hermes 1966: 395; Allen 2002: 1).

The fighting on Old Baldy was not unusual. For two years, from July 1951 until July 1953, this "war of the hills" was waged all around the 38th Parallel while negotiations to end the war stagnated. These battles represented some of the most intense fighting in one of the most agonizing and miserable chapters of the Korean War and the casualties were staggering. While no complete tally of battle-deaths exists for Old Baldy, numbers for neighboring hills highlight the costs. For example, the United States and South Korea lost 6,400 men in the battles of Heartbreak Ridge and Bloody Ridge, while the Chinese suffered 10,000 killed in the battle of White Horse Hill. In between these costly battles, fighting tapered off to patrol clashes, raids and ambushes for possession of outposts in no-man's land. Adding to the misery were the bone-numbing cold, the relentless rain, the inadequate food rations, the pounding artillery duels, the invariable sleep deprivation and the inevitable fear. Holding these hills was no walk in the park.

To put the costs into perspective, US statistics show that 45 percent of its casualties-22,000 killed, 63,200 wounded-occurred during the "war of the hills" (Foot 1990: 208). The United Nations Command, of which US troops were a part, overall suffered 125,000 wounded and 60,000 killed during this period. Likewise, the Chinese and North Koreans suffered 234,000 killed (Hermes 1966: 500; Hatchimonji 2002).

Old Baldy is the quintessence of stalemated war. For two years, China and the United States suffered massive casualties, week after week, even while both governments knew that they would not win the war. Moreover, these casualties happened even though both governments knew that they wanted to end the war and knew that they should. From a strategic view, the losses make no sense-neither side thought that holding this terrain was vital to its strategic interests. This being the case, why did Chinese and American soldiers huddle under devastating exposure to 130,000 artillery rounds in a single night, as the Americans tried to push the Chinese off Old Baldy for the sixth time-long after their own governments had decided that the Korean War was bound for a stalemate?

This book is about why those men died.

While this story about Old Baldy may seem overly detailed for such an insignificant piece of land, it is instructive nonetheless. If-as most variants of the bargaining model of war assume-"battle-deaths" are a major driver for altering belligerents' calculus in bargains to end war, then recounting the Old Baldy story reminds us of the human faces behind this anonymous "battle-death" count.

One of the biggest puzzles about war is why events like those that occurred on Old Baldy can happen. Why did those governments decide to throw away 294,000 lives fighting for strategically meaningless terrain features, as the conflict seesawed from one hill to the other? What could make this magnitude of loss acceptable? We can look at Old Baldy as a series of battles that were senseless, irrational and quite possibly inexplicable. But this book argues that what happened on Old Baldy during the Korean War was not irrational-at least in the sense that social scientists use that term-nor was it unique. What happened on Old Baldy happens in many wars, and it is explainable. In fact, there is a solid theoretical explanation for this seemingly irrational behavior. This book develops and tests that explanation.

In the case of Old Baldy, men continued to die on that hill until other men lost power, thousands of miles away, in Moscow. More generally, this book will demonstrate that the key to ending a war often comes down to changing the composition of the domestic governing coalitions in the states that are fighting it. Old Baldy may make no sense from a strategic viewpoint, but it does from the vantage point of domestic politics.

Domestic Coalition Shifts in War Termination

Throughout history, shifts in governing coalitions have critically affected war termination. For example, the execution of the Athenian democratic ruler Cleophon and the ascendancy of the pro-Spartan oligarchs in BC 404 led to Athens' surrender to Sparta, ending the 27-year Second Peloponnesian War. Similarly, the death of Russian Empress Elizabeth in January 1762 led her Prussophile successor, Peter III, to immediately recall Russian armies who were occupying Berlin and conclude the Treaty of Saint Petersburg by May-ending the fighting between Russia and Prussia in the Seven Years' War. During World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 brought Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power, who accepted the harsh terms of Brest Litovsk to make a separate peace. The next year, riots in Germany ushered in a new government that then negotiated the final war armistice, as Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland. In the Chaco War, Bolivian President Salamanca was determined to continue at all costs, despite the high command's decision to end the war. His arrest by the military and forced resignation in November 1934 was the major turning point in the war. The generals placed Vice-President José Luis Tejada Sorzano, who was known to favor peace, in power, and the war ended the next spring. During World War II, France and Italy surrendered shortly after changes in their governing coalitions, in 1940 and 1943 respectively.

This phenomenon extends to non-interstate wars, as well. A classic example is the ending of the Wars of the Roses and the installation of the Tudor Dynasty: Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry VII united the warring factions to end the war. More recently, the leader of the rebel group National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), Jonas Zavimbi, was killed in an ambush by government troops in February 2002. Less than six weeks after Zavimbi's death, a cease-fire was signed, ending the 27-year-long Angolan civil war. Similarly, in Sierra Leone, both sides reached a settlement after Foday Sankoh, the leader of the rebel group Revolutionary United Front, was arrested. Comparable patterns can be observed in extra-systemic wars, such as Charles de Gaulle and Mikhail Gorbachev coming to power in France and the Soviet Union and ending their wars in Algeria and Afghanistan, respectively.

Scholars working on issues related to war termination have noted this phenomenon, albeit anecdotally. For example, H. E. Calahan-who argues a change in the relative power among belligerents brings peace-observes that "it seems fair to conclude that a change of regime for the vanquished comes close to being a condition precedent to the making of peace" (1944: 209). James Smith-who argues war ends with an international bargain-notes that "it may indeed be the case that the only way to salvage something from the ruins of war is to have the leader of a particular nation resign" (1995: 106). Among domestic politics scholars, Robert Rothstein concludes that "because it is unlikely that the officials currently in charge can make the necessary changes in policies with which they have become identified, new personnel seem imperative" (1970: 74), while Michael Handel suggests "the termination of a long and stalemated war is frequently preceded by a drastic political change in leadership in the country of one of the belligerents" (1978: 26). Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and his colleagues (1992) similarly argue many states in interstate wars experience violent regime changes before the war ends. Finally, in the landmark study of this phenomenon, Fred Iklé (1991) classifies elites in each belligerent state as "hawks" and "doves" and asserts the hawks may need to leave the government before the state can settle.

In short, the empirical record includes many examples of domestic governing coalition shifts leading to war termination, and many scholars from different theoretical perspectives have noted this tendency. However, no one has previously attempted to explain the causal mechanisms of this phenomenon in a generalizable manner or to test the argument over a broad group of cases. In this book, I introduce a new theory about shifts in domestic governing coalitions, a state's elite foreign policy decision-making group. Moreover, I test this theory with detailed historical case studies of the Korean War and quantitative analysis of all interstate wars since 1862. While this book focuses on interstate wars as classified by Singer and Small (1994), Chapter 10 suggests ways this argument could also apply to civil wars.


War termination is a political bargain struck between belligerents to dispense with further combat (Bennett and Stam 1998; Filson and Werner 2002, 2004; Goemans 2000a; Pillar 1983; Powell 2002, 2004; Reiter 2003, 2009; Slantchev 2003, 2004; Smith and Stam 2004; Wagner 2000; Werner 1998, 1999; Wittman 1979). As bargaining models about war termination suggest, belligerents will settle a conflict only after they develop an overlapping bargaining space, often modeled at the point at which both sides can agree upon their relative strength. Scholars have often posited a Bayesian rational updating process by which each side updates its expectations about the war and thus changes its bottom line to create an overlapping bargaining space. Sometimes wars are short because this bargaining space develops quickly, usually because the battlefield illustrates belligerents' relative strength in a very compelling manner. Conversely, wars are long because this bargaining space develops more slowly, for example when the battlefield becomes stalemated, belligerents cannot credibly commit, relative power is ambiguous or the issues at stake are indivisible or highly salient.

While the Bayesian model assumes the war-ending change in expectations occurs when incumbent leaders change their minds, my research suggests that in many wars, this change in expectations results from a change in the foreign policy leadership itself. Thus, my theory extends the Bayesian model by fleshing out the domestic political aspects of the bargaining model of war. I present a new theory about shifts in domestic governing coalitions and thereby refine the domestic mechanisms for explaining the international bargains that end war. As such, this analysis very consciously builds on a much wider literature within international relations about "two-level games," one level being domestic and the other international (Putnam 1988; Tsebelis 1990; Snyder 1991; Mayer 1992; Fearon 1994; Schultz 1998; Smith 1998; Milner and Rosendorff 1996, 1997; Partell and Palmer 1999). It also accords with recent scholarship that examines the two-level dynamics in continuing or ending enduring interstate rivalries (Colaresi 2004, 2005; McGinnis and Williams 2001; Mor 1997; Schultz 2005). In this way, the explanation provided in this book is more complete and thus more powerful than previous attempts to generalize about and predict war termination.


Excerpted from Paths to Peace by Elizabeth A. Stanley Copyright © 2009 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Elizabeth A. Stanley is Assistant Professor of Security Studies in Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government. She is co-editor, with Risa Brooks, of Creating Military Power: The Sources of Military Effectiveness (Stanford, 2007).

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