Audience Costs

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19 Mar 2014
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Audience Costs 02/18/2014
The Puzzle
Give incentives to misrepresent how can states involved in a dispute rationally reach the conclusion that the
opponent would prefer war to backing down?
If it is costly for states to back down from a threat—they will be less likely to bluff
Costly Signals
This language of coercion deals with how to signal resolve
Costly Signals:
Tying hands: increasing the costs of “backing down”
Audience costs
Audience Costs
Crises occur in public
Domestic and International audiences can see what is occurring
“states resort to the risky and provocative actions that characterize crises…because less-public diplomacy
may not allow them credibly to reveal their won preferences concerning international interests or to learn
those of other states”
As long as cost of war is less than audience costs, you will go to war (if benefits of war outweigh the costs
of backing down)
Audience Costs The costs a leader incurs by backing down from a public threat
The more effect the polity is at punishing the leader, the better able the state can signal resolve
In other words, there must be some cost imposed on a leader that backs down in order to communicate
resolve
**Domestic Regimes matter
Which leaders are you more likely to believe makes credible threats??
Obama versus North Korea president?
Theoretical Argument
Threats “engage the national honor”
The public cares about reputation and anything that can tarnish that
So if a leader backs down after making a threat, the national reputation is harmed
What is so special about democracy in this story?
Vocal opposition: opposition parties love to capitalize on mistakes
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Leaders can be removed relatively easily
Regular elections
Leaders protect international reputation because of domestic audiences
Democracies are just inherently more transparent
Implications from Audience Costs
Democracies should be less likely to bluff
If a democracy makes a threat—believe it
Non-democracies will have trouble sending costly signals
If a democracy makes a threat, will the other state be more or less likely to back down?
Why?
Autocratic Audience Costs
Weeks (2008)
Three factors contribute to creating audience costs
Groups willing to punish leader
Typically there are groups willing to punish leaders in non-democracies (assassination—more severe than
democracy punishment)
Audience viewing backing down negatively
Outsiders can observe domestic sanctions
This is possible through political elites in some non-democracies
Does Everybody Believe in Audience Costs?
As with any theory, there are some critics
The harshest criticism of audience costs has come recently with Snyder and Borghard (2011)
They challenge both the assumptions of audience costs and the proposed causal mechanisms
Assumption # 1
Leaders must make clear and specific threats, which seek lock-in, not flexibility
If vague, there’s nothing to punish
Is this really the case?
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