It's the Principle at Stake: Rhetoric and Compromise in International Bargaining

Post, Abigail, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Post, Abigail, Arts & Sciences Graduate-asg, University of Virginia

How does government rhetoric affect international bargaining? While governments often turn to principle-based arguments during foreign policy interactions, existing rationalist theories of International Relations dismiss such moral language as inconsequential rhetoric with no real impact on either state behavior or dispute outcomes. Contrary to the theoretical consensus, I show that principled language is not mere cheap talk but has measurable effects on international bargaining. In this dissertation, I provide evidence that when countries rely on principled arguments, they decrease the probability of peaceful compromise and increase the probability of a dispute escalating with military action. This language operates through two pathways. First, moral language prejudices domestic audiences against compromise, which makes it more difficult for politicians to de-escalate the disagreement. Second, principled rhetoric provokes the other side to use moral language as well. The ensuing moral debate deadlocks negotiations. Domestic opposition to compromise on both sides – a product of moral rhetoric – increases the probability that at least one side will resort to force to resolve the dispute. On the other hand, strategic, material-based arguments defuse the situation and help avoid dispute escalation. The dissertation examines the effects of rhetoric on public opinion in a survey experiment; on public opinion, negotiation breakdown, and dispute escalation in a case study of the Falklands/Malvinas dispute; and on the severity of violence during twenty-six crises involving the United States between 1980 and 2015.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
rhetoric, bargaining, morality
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