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The Temper Tantrums of Nations: Why Would Weak Nations Challenge Hegemonic Nations?

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Abstract In March 2005, riots erupted in South Korea against Japan in reaction to Japan’s claims of sovereignty over some rocky uninhabited islets (0.23 km2). What explains the moral outrage against Japan, the severity of which could have erupted into a military conflict? Such outrage is a puzzle for two reasons. First, the probability that South Korea could defeat Japan is nil, especially since the US-Japan alliance dominates the US-South Korean alliance. Second, even if the probability of defeating Japan was 100%, the net benefit of conflict was apparently negative – given the meager potential reward vis-à-vis the cost of war. This article offers a rational choice model that demonstrates that the moral outrage cannot be explained as a strategic threat. The analysis demonstrates that sociological and evolutionary game explanations are also unconvincing. This calls for an evaluation of how emotions relate to rational choice in international conflicts.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Economics, Monash University Clayton, VIC 3800 Australia


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