The Limits of Reciprocity: Tolerance Thresholds in Superpower Conflict

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Lebovic, James H. (2003) The Limits of Reciprocity: Tolerance Thresholds in Superpower Conflict, Journal of Peace Research 40(2).

Researchers have devoted little attention to the important issue of whether states monitoring incoming conflict observe clear accommodative thresholds below which they are unlikely to retaliate and might continue cooperation. Consequently, this study develops the concept of accommodation and studies its impact on the behavior of the USA and Soviet Union. Using COPDAB and WEIS data, this study tests a probit model and employs the derived parameters to calculate accommodative thresholds for the USA and Soviet Union towards their full set of interaction partners in the 1948-78 period and each other in the 1948-91 period. It concludes that both the USA and Sovjet Union displayed accommodative tendencies, especially when a prior pattern of cooperation with a target was in place but that the USA was highly prone towards accommodation. The USA accommodated conflictive acts of varying intensity, from a wide range of states, under a variety of conditions, over lengthy time periods. The USA aIso accommodated conflict from the Soviet Union over long time periods in which the Soviets did not share the US penchant for accommodation. These findings generally support realist arguments that a preponderant position allows states to ignore low-level challenges from adversaries. They also provide some support for those who adopt foreign-policy approaches.
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