Challenging Victor Bias and Status Quo Bias in Realist Accounts of Surrender
: Re-Reading Three Cases of Surrender from the Peloponnesian War

  • Alexandros Koutsoukis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


From a materialist realist perspective, when a state surrenders power preponderance considerations, that is a state’s relative weakness in terms of material power, should provide the bulk of the explanation for the surrender. Yet, weak states have surrendered quickly and slowly and on occasion have done so only to soon challenge their conquerors. This thesis is driven by a puzzle concerning whether material power and (actual or projected) victory in war can explain logics of surrender and, if not, what this may mean for our understanding of surrender, realism and IR more widely. This study focuses our attention on the fact that surrendering highlights that realism’s core assumption - that states seek survival-is in fact underspecified and problematic. On one hand, state survival seen as autonomy is theoretically paradoxical because in practice it can be easily sacrificed in some instances of surrender. On the other hand, survival as autonomy is underspecified since under different conditions it can be traded off at too high a price making state death and Annihilation a real possibility. Recognition of this is evaded in standard realist approaches. This thesis develops a perspective on surrender which shares some aspects of a cost-benefit approach characteristic of realism, the Strategic Choice Approach (SCA), but innovates by not assuming an abstract view of rationality. Guided by SCA, this thesis problematises
surrendering and seeks to explain surrendering from the actor’s own perspective. To explicate surrendering We concentrate on three case studies focused on analysis of surrendering in ancient Greece. The thesis argues that states’ logic of surrendering relates not only to appeasement and opportunistic bandwagoning but also to such non-realist reasons such as gratitude, seduction and recognition. If we do not start from realist assumptions, argued here to be characterised by victor bias and which lead to status quo bias, we can observe certain reasonable, ethically-inspired, and at the same time high-risk actions in the surrendering logics of states. The case studies of surrendering developed here explain both delayed and very fast surrendering and account for the surprising rise of instability in response to some surrenders. Overall, it demonstrates that non-material and psychological factors can over-ride concerns about physical security. This analysis of surrender highlights the potential weaknesses of realist theoretical assumptions when applied to study of surrender and demonstrates that close analysis of surrender logics allows us to better understand not only war and stability but also what is at stake in how we approach theorising IR.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorMilja Kurki (Supervisor) & Jan Růžička (Supervisor)

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