Todd Hall writes on the phenomenon of dispute inflation
Much work has examined the phenomenon of dispute escalation, whereby the concrete measures state actors take edge them closer to war. Less attention has been devoted to the ways in which state actors’ perceptions of what is at stake in a dispute can also change, with important consequences for the likelihood of conflict. This paper examines the phenomenon of dispute inflation – wherein a contest over an object or issue assumes ever greater stakes and significance for its protagonists – and identifies three different mechanisms that can generate increasing non-material stakes. The upshot is that theoretically even a minor dispute can grow into a major conflict due to swelling stakes, especially when dispute inflation spirals. To illustrate these dynamics at work, this paper looks to recent developments in the dispute between the People’s Republic of China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.