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
Date Written: May 2015
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
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