Why So Secretive? Unpacking Public Attitudes Towards Secrecy and Success in U.S. Foreign Policy
Forthcoming, The Journal of Politics
37 Pages Posted: 7 May 2019
Date Written: January 24, 2019
To what extent does transparency in foreign policymaking matter to democratic publics? Scholars and policymakers posit a normative commitment to transparency in the conduct of foreign affairs, an assumption baked into many existing models of international politics. This paper tests the existence of a “transparency norm” in international security using three original survey experiments about covert action. I recover attitudes towards covert operations by holding the circumstances and outcomes of conflicts constant and manipulating whether or not foreign involvement was kept secret from the American public. Then, I unpack an “ends” and “means” trade-off by exploring whether there are conditions under which secrecy in national security is unacceptable to the public, regardless of policy outcomes. The findings demonstrate that democratic publics have only a weak preference for transparency: they care substantially more about the outcomes of U.S. foreign policy rather than the process by which the policy was created.
Keywords: Covert Action, Transparency, U.S. Foreign Policy, Survey Experiment
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