The Spotlight's Harsh Glare: Rethinking Publicity and International Order
59 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2015
Date Written: January 20, 2015
How does the publicity of states’ illicit activities affect the stability of international order? What does this tell us about when enforcers of international rules publicize these states’ violations? In contrast to the conventional wisdom that transparency strengthens the normative-legal order, this paper argues that transparency often undermines it. We develop two mechanisms through which this occurs: by raising the known rate of non-compliance, and by sharpening the threat to others posed by deviance. These considerations lead enforcers of international rules to selectively publicize transgressions. Focusing on the nuclear non-proliferation domain, we demonstrate that these concerns factored heavily into American decisions to reveal or obfuscate other states’ efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. We formalize this argument and then empirically test the model’s predictions using in-depth case study analyses. We find that the U.S. failed to disclose infractions precisely when this publicity would have undermined the rules through the two mechanisms we identify.
Keywords: international institutions, international norms, nuclear weapons, publicity, transparency
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation