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

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Myrick, Rachel, Why So Secretive? Unpacking Public Attitudes Towards Secrecy and Success in U.S. Foreign Policy (January 24, 2019). Forthcoming, The Journal of Politics. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3367870

Rachel Myrick (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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