How the Prospect of Non-Compliance Affects Elite Preferences for International Cooperation: Evidence from a 'Lab in the Field' Experiment

40 Pages Posted: 2 May 2014 Last revised: 24 Sep 2015

See all articles by Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy

Brad L. LeVeck

University of California, Merced

David G. Victor

UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy

Date Written: May 2015

Abstract

Uncertainty about a state’s own capacity to comply with an international agreement makes countries wary of international cooperation. There are a variety of possible explanations. That screening effect could result from the decision to avoid the costs associated with formal institutional enforcement. Alternatively, it could result from fear of informal retaliation, reputational loss, or the desire to abide by international norms. The empirical record of extensive treaty membership and high compliance offers little variation with which to evaluate these explanations. We develop an experimental survey conducted on 95 actual high level policy elites in the United States that allows us to look causally at the link between formal enforcement and decision maker preferences for cooperation under different conditions of uncertainty about their country’s future compliance. We provide the first elite-level evidence that uncertainty about future compliance with treaty obligations decreases policy makers’ willingness to cooperate by joining treaties. However, we also demonstrate that compliance uncertainty makes decision makers wary of cooperation more out of concern for the shadow of the future than for immediate threats of punishment imposed by institutional enforcement of treaty obligations. Uncertainty, rather than the costs associated with institutional enforcement, may be the driving force behind the screening effect, which is at least in part a matter of the personal dispositions of decision makers.

Keywords: Enforcement, Screening, Uncertainty, International Cooperation, Trade, Experiments, Elites, Compliance

Suggested Citation

Hafner-Burton, Emilie Marie and LeVeck, Brad L. and Victor, David G., How the Prospect of Non-Compliance Affects Elite Preferences for International Cooperation: Evidence from a 'Lab in the Field' Experiment (May 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2431525 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2431525

Emilie Marie Hafner-Burton (Contact Author)

UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

HOME PAGE: http://gps.ucsd.edu/ehafner/

Brad L. LeVeck

University of California, Merced ( email )

P.O. Box 2039
Merced, CA 95344
United States

HOME PAGE: http://faculty.ucmerced.edu/bleveck

David G. Victor

UC San Diego, School of Global Policy and Strategy ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

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