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Research Seminar | War Scripts and War Initiation Decisions

Monday December 19, 2022, from 12:00 to 13:30
Room 24.120 (First Floor). Mercè Rodoreda 24 building
Research seminar

Jeffrey Michaels (IBEI). ChairBorge Wietzke (IBEI)

Registration is required

The underlying premise of this paper is that leaders’ decisions to go to war, or not go to war, and the way that states initially go to war, are fundamentally shaped by a concept labelled here as a ‘war script’. In simple terms, a war script is a decision-maker’s conception of what a potential war will consist of and how it will play out. It is based on this conception that leaders will decide whether to go to war, as well as how they will go to war. In other words, it defines the situation as well as prescribes behavior. Although the concept will require further refinement, it has the potential to offer a more targeted method for the analysis of decisions about war than similar concepts that have been used by scholars in such fields as IR and political psychology, and can also be useful for diplomatic historians as well as historians of specific wars. The utility of war scripts can also extend to the preparation of intelligence and net assessments, as an awareness of an adversary’s understanding of the context in which military force might potentially be used can allow analysts to more accurately appreciate the importance and relevance of different types of capabilities than might otherwise be presumed based on an alternative approach.

This research seminar presentation will be divided into two parts.  The first part will provide a fuller explanation of what a war script is and how it can be distinguished from other similar concepts, as well as explore linkages with longstanding theories dealing with war initiation decisions. The second part will discuss a methodology for identifying war scripts in historical and future cases, to include a brief discussion of a case study on the Chinese decision to ´join´ the Korean War in the Autumn 1950.

Jeffrey Michaels joined IBEI in September 2020 as IEN Senior Fellow in American Foreign Policy and International Security, under IBEI and Institut d’Estudis Nord-americans (IEN) new programme. Earlier experience included working as a Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London, as well as serving as an official with NATO and the US Defense Department. He also holds Visiting Fellowships with the Department of War Studies at King's and the Changing Character of War Centre, Pembroke College, Oxford. Read more

During the course 2022-23, IBEI has organised a series of research seminars, which normally take place once a week. Check the 2022-23 programme