Domestic political audiences and the escalation of international disputes

TitleDomestic political audiences and the escalation of international disputes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1994
AuthorsFearon, JD
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Pagination577–592
Keywordssecurity, State
Abstract

 

International  crises  are modeled as  a political  "war  of attrition"  in  which  state  leaders choose at  each  moment  whether  to  attack,  back  down,  or  escalate.  A  leader  who  backs  down  suffers audience  costs  that  increase  as  the public  confrontation  proceeds.  Equilibrium  analysis  shows how  audience  costs  enable  leaders  to  learn  an  adversary's  true  preferences  concerning  settlement versus war and thus whether and when attack is rational.  The model also generates  strong  comparative statics  results,  mainly  on  the question  of which  side  is  most  likely  to back down.  Publicly  observable measures  of relative  military  capabilities  and  relative  interests  prove  to  have  no  direct  effect once  a crisis  begins.  Instead,  relative audience costs matter: the side with  a stronger  domestic audience  (e.g., a  democracy) is  always  less  likely  to  back down  than  the side  less  able  to generate  audience  costs  (a nondemocracy).  More  broadly,  the analysis  suggests  that  democracies should  be able  to  signal  their intentions  to other states more credibly and clearly than authoritarian states can,  perhaps ameliorating the security  dilemma  between  democratic states.