Book review: Win, Lose, or Draw, by Allan C. Stam III, 1999.

This is a well-organized and elegant work, however, It lacks a condensing theory, though. The main argument of this work is that domestic politics are the main elements that predetermine the result of an inter-state armed conflict. This is not a new idea; however, it is a novelty in the sense that it challenges presuppositions of Realism and Neo-realism (even George Orwell suggests perpetuating war to provide the state with permanent internal peace).

Stam’s book tests his hypotheses relating them to the internal dynamics of the state, such as the state’s leaders’ decisions, and the balance of power to forecast if in a conflict the state will win, lose or draw (he uses cases in a period between the 1800s and the late 1980s). One of Stam’s main ideas sustains that war equals degrees of coercion and that because of it, a state’s capacity to intimidate another one, depends on the relationship cost-benefit, between the involved actors.

His utilization of over twenty IV (Independent Variables) includes the state’s conflict decisions, such as tactical and strategic alternatives, mobilization of troops, development of alliances, or internal repression (of opposition, as with the Vietnam War or the Iraq invasion, to name two examples), but also other IVs as terrain, military advances and implicitly, culture (Sun Tzu comes to mind…) The first critique that I had, was that his chosen IVs were insufficient, however, I found that towards the end of the book the author acknowledges the same.

Some of Stam’s findings are not surprising; e.g. the fact that not only IVs such as military investments, the capacities of the industrial-military complex, state-of-the-art military technologies, and manpower numbers influence the outcome of war, are expected results, but in other IVs’ cases, such as in that of using “repression towards the opposition” as one, and which also plays a determinant role in the results, the outcome is more interesting.

Stam puts to test even Sun Tzu’s thesis, since he affirms that some traditionally considered factors of success, such as the ones the Chinese general bases his theory on, can be of secondary importance when compared to the result of his thesis. For Stam, Internal factors are of the gravest relevance; Not so external ones.

Another argument of Stam’s is that according to his conclusions, leaders of (mostly) democracies, must choose “popular” internal decisions, versus “effective, but unpopular, international ones”, which I think is relative to the state’s interest. e.g. If the Vietnam War was carried out to stop the perceived communist threat in Southern Asia, the desired outcome was the total victory on the Vietcong; But (and this is a big “but”) if the idea was to prolong war as much as possible for industrial-economic reasons, “success” responds to another interpretation; In both cases the outcome is predictable applying the author’s ideas, however, my doubt is in regard to how to determine an outcome if it were a combination of those two (or more) hypotheses?

His puzzle: Can the internal dynamics of the state change its own fortune in war? His analysis on draws is interesting; Stam’s work is the first one I have read in which he tests the idea that draws are more common that perceived. In the scenario of draw, the domestic situation seems crucial. The implications of his work applied to the security dilemma can apply to the study of war, regionally, such as with the Middle East (for a case of abundant conflict) or with Latin America (for a case of scarce armed conflict, beginning in the mid 20th century).

Soldiers of Co. A, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, attached to 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., April 7, 2016. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

I had the impression that some of his findings are not enough justified, but only frivolously mentioned. I understood that democracies with high levels of positive, popular participation and authoritarian (if not totalitarian) states that repress their opponents, increase their chances of winning a war, but I did not understand thoroughly why or how.

According to the author, his conclusions are rational and overwhelming, but they are more analytical and less determinant. His initiative to challenge Realism and Neorealism is very appealing, but I missed the proposed alternative (theory of International Relations) to those.

I could never find an explanation in the book for what the author calls “the potential problem of multicollinearity” (Stam A. 1999: 130). What is that problem? Where is it? And how does it affect his conclusions? I never found the answers to these questions. Apparently, he forgot to include them in his work, or I simply missed them.


Stam, A. 1999. Win, Lose or Draw. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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