The Vietnam War as a Richardson Process

Journal article

Lowe, Keith W. & Norman Alcock (1969) The Vietnam War as a Richardson Process, Journal of Peace Research 6 (2): 105–112.

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The general hypothesis of this empirical research is that an escalating limited war follows an action-and-reaction process which is less calculated and more irrational than an 'old- fashioned' declared war. The specific hypothesis is that the Vietnam war can be described by the Richardson arms race equations, with total casualties replacing total arms expenditures. Irregularities in the resulting curves were tested against qualitative events over the time period studied.

The general hypothesis was not confirmed; the specific hypothesis was confirmed - the Vietnam escalation appears to be very similar to the arms race preceding World War II with a single sharp change in slope interrupting an otherwise consistant straight line plot. Two events may account for the apparent discontinuity: the Tonkin Bay incident of August 1964 and the Pleiku base incident of February 1965 followed immediately by the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam.

It is noted that the events cited correspond to a change of office in the American presidency, and it is speculated therefore that another change of office in January 1969 may lead to a further discontinuity. On the basis of the calculations, it is suggested that peace negotiations and a de-escalation of the fighting are more likely to occur after there is a significant withdrawal of American combat troops from Vietnam.

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