Abstract: After a war breaks out, what factors influence the warring parties’ de- cisions about whether to talk to their enemy, and when may their posi- tion on wartime diplomacy change? How do we get from only fighting to also talking? In The Costs of Conversation, Oriana Skylar Mastro argues that states are primarily concerned with the strategic costs of conversation, and these costs need to be low before combatants are willing to engage in direct talks with their enemy. Specifically, Mastro writes, leaders look to two factors when determining the probable strategic costs of demon- strating a willingness to talk: the likelihood the enemy will interpret openness to diplomacy as a sign of weakness, and how the enemy may change its strategy in response to such an interpretation. Only if a state thinks it has demonstrated adequate strength and resiliency to avoid the inference of weakness, and believes that its enemy has limited ca- pacity to escalate or intensify the war, will it be open to talking with the enemy. Through four primary case studies—North Vietnamese diplomatic decisions during the Vietnam War, those of China in the Korean War and Sino-Indian War, and Indian diplomatic decision making in the latter conflict—The Costs of Conversation demonstrates that the costly conversations thesis best explains the timing and nature of countries’ approach to wartime talks, and therefore when peace talks begin. As a result, Mastro’s findings have significant theoretical and practical implications for war duration and termination, as well as for military strategy, diplomacy, and mediation.
Bio: I am an assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University where my research addresses critical questions at the intersection of interstate conflict, great power relations, and the challenges of rising powers – with a focus on China and East Asian security. Specifically, I look at how perceptions of power impact the process and precursors to conflict, such as military competition and coercion. This year, I am also a Jeane Kirkpatrick Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where I am working on a book about China's challenge to U.S. primacy. I also continue to serve as an officer in the United States Air Force Reserve. I am the author of the forthcoming Cornell University Press book The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime. I have a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Stanford University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Princeton University.