Working Papers


Andrew J. Coe and Jane Vaynman.  “The Tragedy of Arming.” October 2017.

Abstract:  Arming is puzzling for the same reason war is: it produces outcomes that could in- stead be realized through negotiation, without the costly diversion of resources arming entails. Despite this, arms control is exceedingly rare historically, so that arming is ubiquitous and its costs to humanity are large. We develop and test a theory that ex- plains why arming is so common and its control so rare. The main impediment to arms control is the need for monitoring that renders a state’s arming transparent enough to assure its compliance, but not so much as to threaten its safety. We present evidence that this tradeoff has undermined arms control in three diverse contexts: Iraq’s WMD programs after the Gulf War; the superpowers’ arms race during the Cold War; and the great power competition in arms in the interwar period.