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Will NATO Fight Russia Over Ukraine? The Stability-Instability Paradox Says No

March 24, 2022
Andrew Kydd


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Andrew Kydd, Professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, applies the stability-instability paradox to NATO’s perspective of the war in Ukraine.

Many observers of the current war between Russia and Ukraine have expressed concern that NATO support for Ukraine could escalate the conflict to a direct major conventional war between NATO and Russia, and that from there it could easily escalate to a nuclear war. A group of foreign policy experts have proposed that NATO impose a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, while other analysts have decried the escalatory potential of such a move. In a recent poll of international relations scholars, 40 percent thought a no-fly zone would lead to large-scale conventional war between NATO and Russia and 13 percent thought it could lead to nuclear war.

Emma Ashford and Joshua Shifrinson recently argued that the Ukraine war could easily escalate to a large-scale conventional war because of the “stability-instability paradox, in which states, stalemated in the nuclear realm, might be more willing to escalate in conventional terms.” The stability-instability paradox, combined with incentives to escalate, accidents, and efforts by allies to supply Ukraine with more controversial weapons like fighter aircraft, could push the two sides to war. They argue that painful concessions may be necessary to resolve the conflict and avoid disaster.

Escalation is obviously a central concern in this conflict, given that both sides have nuclear weapons and that an all-out war would be catastrophic. But the stability-instability paradox actually gives hope that escalation may be avoided, rather than additional reasons for fear.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.