The Effective Power of Military Coalitions: A Unified Theoretical and Empirical Model

Current draft:

With Kristopher W. Ramsay.

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Abstract. We develop a unified model of crisis bargaining and war fighting between military coalitions. The effective power of a coalition depends not only on the raw capabilities of its members, but also how much effort they choose to exert. Free-riding may make a coalition amount to less than the sum of its parts. Using data on the outcomes of international disputes, we structurally estimate the model parameters, allowing us to identify determinants of countries’ force multipliers and the degree of prior uncertainty. Demographic and economic characteristics are the most important determinants of military effectiveness, with regime type and geopolitical considerations playing lesser roles. The structural model also allows us to simulate counterfactual outcomes in disputes between coalitions. This allows us to test historical claims like that earlier American involvement would have made a substantial difference in both World Wars, even in the face of strategic free-riding by its allies.