Friday, December 20, 2013

The Importance of Screening

In my first new post, I articulated one way international institutions can deter bad behavior. In this post, I'll argue that even if we assume institutions don't have access to information that isn't already available to states, they still matter more than some appreciate.\(^1\)

One of the most prominent criticisms of institutions is that they are epiphenomenal---that they put a name on behavior that would have occurred anyway. That is, some have argued that the good news about compliance is not necessarily good news about cooperation because treaties may simply screen rather than constrain.

But the one does not necessarily imply the other. That is, even if institutions merely screen without constraining, this may nonetheless give us cause to celebrate international institutions. Below, I discuss a result from a formal model in which institutions screen but do not constrain---a model where the willingness of any given state to comply with a cooperative outcome is the same regardless of whether they join the institution. But it is nonetheless true in this model that fewer states would cooperate in the absence of institutions. In other words, when assessing the impact of institutions, we have to be very clear about what our standards are (as Martin and others (1 and 2) have argued). There is an important distinction between the claim that institutions alter state preferences and the claim that they merely separate nice, trustworthy types from bad, untrustworthy types, and I do not wish to downplay it. But it is nonetheless true that screening matters.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Importance of Angry Letters

How can international institutions foster cooperation given that they lack enforcement capability? One view, quite simply, is that they can't. This view is shared by realists and many outside the academy.

Many would argue this critique is unfair. It is too easy to jump from "can't control rogue states" to "completely worthless" or "false promise" or what have you. Even states that view one another as friends sometimes fail to reap all the possible benefits of international cooperation due to coordination problems, collaboration problems, etc, and institutions may help such states leave a little less money lying on the ground. There's also pretty strong evidence that UN peacekeeping works, particularly when it has the consent of all the parties involved. Sure, that's an important caveat, but we shouldn't trivialize the large number of lives that have likely been saved as a result of the UN's efforts.

But let's set those things aside. Is the best we can say about the UN that it helps those who want to be helped but is of no real consequence to the behavior of "rogue" states? I would argue that the answer is "sort of, but only if we adopt a fairly extreme definition of 'rogue'." If we don't define "rogue" states as those that do misbehave, but instead as those who would like to, then the answer is likely that the UN does not just allow the good guys to do a little bit better on the margins, but actually changes the intentions of those we might otherwise see as bad guys.

Look below the fold to see why.