International Interactions is a peer-reviewed journal with direct relevance to a wide and interdisciplinary audience. Readers include political scientists, economists, historians, mathematicians, statisticians, anthropologists, sociologists, and other social science researchers with an interest in international relations, as well as informed professionals in business and government.
Launched in 2019, II's blog initiative aims to synthesize scholarly findings for a practitioner audience. Each blog post describes the policy takeaways of a recent II article, in the authors' own words, and is accompanied by a period of free access to the original published article. This is an exciting opportunity to share the important scholarly work of the journal with engaged policymakers who can apply this research to current issues and challenges.
Latest posts are featured below. To access previous posts, visit the blog archive.
Uncertainty and International Politics
Brandon Yoder and Kyle Haynes blog about their new paper, "Mutual uncertainty and credible reassurance: experimental evidence," recently published online in II.
The research article is free-access until August 31, 2020.
Dr. Brandon Yoder is an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts & Social Sciences at The Australian National University. Learn more about Dr. Yoder here.
Among policymakers, does mutual uncertainty incentivize honest behavior?
In this paper, we present a laboratory experiment testing a theory of interstate reassurance we developed in another recent article.¹ There, we showed that, in many real-world contexts, mutual uncertainty about intentions can allow states to credibly reassure each other. Specifically, this holds with respect to policy issues where cooperation is subjective – in other words, where it is not clear ex ante which types of policies the receiver would view favorably or unfavorably. Under this sort of “subjective” cooperation, high uncertainty about the receiver’s preferences leaves the sender with little incentive to misrepresent their own preferences.
We test this theory using a laboratory experiment that replicated the incentives of our previous model (Haynes and Yoder 2020). The model yielded four hypotheses. First, we expected senders to be more likely to honestly signal their preferences when they were highly uncertain of the receiver’s preferences. Second, we expected receivers, as a result of these more honest signals, to be more likely to correctly guess the sender’s preferences when the latter was highly uncertain. We also expected receivers to express greater confidence in these guesses. Finally, because we expected receivers to have better information about the sender’s preferences when the sender was highly uncertain, we expected receivers to be more likely to implement an optimal strategy toward uncertain senders.
Our results largely supported the theory, but with one very interesting wrinkle. Senders were indeed far more likely to signal honestly when they were less certain of the receiver’s preferences. In response, receivers were more likely to both implement an optimal strategy toward the sender, and guess the sender’s type correctly. But importantly, receivers did not express greater confidence in their guesses of the sender’s preferences, even when they had monetary incentives to accurately state their confidence.
This finding suggests that receivers were indeed forming more accurate beliefs about the sender as the theory would expect. The receivers simply didn’t realize that their beliefs were more accurate, and so did not express greater confidence in them. Our experiment thus highlights the possibility that the accuracy of policymakers’ beliefs might significantly diverge from the confidence with which they hold these beliefs. Existing research on signaling typically assumes that more confident beliefs are also more accurate, and vice versa. We show that, in practice, these distinct dimensions of policymakers’ beliefs can differ significantly.
Our findings have important implications for contemporary international politics. In particular, scholars and policymakers have spent decades debating the extent to which China’s future intentions are incompatible with America’s preferences for the global order. We suspect that this durable uncertainty arises in part because the United States’ transparent domestic institutions, and extensive role in shaping the international status quo, have given Chinese policymakers a very clear idea of America’s foreign policy preferences. This theoretically allows China to more effectively misrepresent any revisionist intentions it holds, since its leaders would know precisely how to mimic American preferences.
But importantly, the presidency of Donald Trump has blown apart the prior consensus across Democratic and Republican parties regarding the general shape of the international order. As a result, foreign policymakers cannot know with any meaningful degree of confidence what American foreign policy preferences are today, much less what they will be a year from now. As a result, we argue, foreign leaders today have far less incentive to conceal their true policy preferences from American leaders. They simply can’t know what the US wants, and so can’t parrot US preferences in order to conceal their own. In effect, the incoherence of US foreign policy under the Trump administration may actually yield more accurate information about the foreign policy preferences of other states.
But our experimental results also show that, while these dynamics may produce more accurate beliefs about foreign leaders’ policy preferences, these beliefs may not necessarily be held more confidently. Our article revealed the possibility of a divergence between accuracy and confidence of beliefs, but did not explore the implications of this divergence in great detail. Future research should explore this divergence further, specifying when it is most likely to occur, and what types of consequences might follow from it.
*This article is free-access until August 31, 2020.
¹Haynes, Kyle and Brandon Yoder. (2020) “Offsetting Uncertainty: Reassurance with Two-Sided Incomplete Information.” American Journal of Political Science 64(1): 38-51.
Leadership, Combat Experience, and Crises
Ross A. Miller describes his article, "Welcome to the Jungle: A research note on leader entry, combat experience, and dispute targeting," published in Volume 46, Issue 4 (2020). The research article is free-access until July 31, 2020.
Dr. Ross Miller is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Learn more about Dr. Miller here.
An Alternative Theory of Diversionary Behavior
Dennis M. Foster & Jonathan W. Keller discuss their paper, "Single-party government, Prime Minister psychology, and the diversionary use of force: theory and evidence from the British case," published in Volume 46, Issue 2 (2020).
Dennis M. Foster is Jackson-Hope Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of International Studies and Political Science at Virginia Military Institute, USA. Learn more about Col. Foster here.
Jonathan W. Keller is a Professor of Political Science at James Madison University, USA. Learn more about Dr. Keller here.
International Interactions is a leading interdisciplinary journal that publishes original empirical, analytic, and theoretical studies of conflict and political economy. The journal has a particular interest in research that focuses upon the broad range of relations and interactions among the actors in the global system. Relevant topics include ethnic and religious conflict, interstate and intrastate conflict, conflict resolution, conflict management, economic development, regional integration, trade relations, institutions, globalization, terrorism, and geopolitical analyses. The journal aims to promote interaction among social science disciplines by encouraging interdisciplinary work among political scientists, economists, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, statisticians, and mathematicians.