Audience Costs: An Historical Analysis

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This article was downloaded by: [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)]On: 09 April 2012, At: 09:33Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKSecurity StudiesPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription udience Costs: An Historical AnalysisMarc TrachtenbergaaUniversity of California, Los AngelesAvailable online: 24 Feb 2012To cite this article: Marc Trachtenberg (2012): Audience Costs: An Historical Analysis, SecurityStudies, 21:1, 3-42To link to this article: SE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: nsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Anysubstantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing,systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representationthat the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of anyinstructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primarysources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings,demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly orindirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

Security Studies, 21:3–42, 2012Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0963-6412 print / 1556-1852 onlineDOI: 10.1080/09636412.2012.650590Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 2012Audience Costs:An Historical AnalysisMARC TRACHTENBERGThis article examines the argument that the ability of a governmentto generate “audience costs”—to create a situation, that is, in whichit would pay a domestic political price for backing down—plays akey role in determining how international crises run their course.It does this by looking at a dozen great power crises to see how wellvarious aspects of the audience costs argument hold up in the lightof the historical evidence. The audience costs mechanism, it turnsout, does not play a major role in any of those crises—a conclusionwhich, the author claims, has certain important methodologicalimplications.It used to be taken for granted that relative power and relative interest wereof fundamental importance in determining how international crises run theircourse—that the weak would defer to the strong and the side that cared lessabout the issues at stake would tend to give way in the dispute. But in animportant article published in 1994, James Fearon argued that in a rationalworld relative power and relative interest and indeed anything observablein advance should already have been taken into account as the policies thatMarc Trachtenberg, an historian by training, is a professor of political science at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles.The author is grateful to a number of scholars—above all Robert Jervis, John Mearsheimer,Leslie Johns, Robert Trager, and Barry O’Neill—for commenting perceptively and helpfullyon earlier drafts of this paper. He also very much appreciates the feedback he got when thosedrafts were presented at workshops at both UCLA and the University of Chicago. He wouldespecially like to thank the Security Studies editors and two anonymous reviewers, all ofwhom commented, intelligently and at length, and not just once but twice, on earlier versionsof this article. It never ceases to amaze him how much time and effort people are willing toput into improving other people’s work—it is one of the glories of our profession—and he isvery grateful to them for all the help they provided.A longer and more extensively footnoted version of this paper is available online /cv/audcosts(long).doc3

Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 20124M. Trachtenbergled up to a crisis were being worked out. Outcomes would therefore bedetermined by new information revealed during the crisis about how fareach state was willing to go. Information of that sort, he said, could notbe effectively conveyed through “quiet diplomatic exchanges,” given thatstates “have strong incentives to misrepresent their willingness to fight inorder to get a better deal.” The rival powers would have to do things that“allow them credibly to reveal their own preferences.” “Cheap talk” couldnot convey new information, since “a state with low resolve may have nodisincentive to sending” such signals; a move made during a crisis had to be“costly signal” if it was to “warrant revising beliefs.” Only costs “generatedin the course of the crisis itself” could “convey new information about astate’s resolve”; only costly signaling could enable the receiver of the signalto distinguish between low-resolve and high-resolve adversaries.1What then allows a state to make its true preferences known? Fearonargued that one particular mechanism played a key role in this regard. Crisestake place in public, and a government might well have to pay a domesticpolitical price if it backed down in the dispute. In such circumstances, itwould be less likely to make threats that it did not intend to follow throughon than if it could bluff with impunity; those threats it did make wouldtherefore be taken more seriously. This audience costs mechanism, as it wascalled, thus allowed states to make credible commitments in this kind ofconflict. And indeed the claim was that this mechanism was of fundamentalimportance—that it played a “crucial role” (as Fearon put it) in “generatingthe costs that enable states to learn” during a crisis.2 Or as Alastair Smith,another leading audience costs theorist, put the point: public foreign policystatements “are only credible when leaders suffer domestically if they fail tofulfill their commitments.”3It follows, these theorists argue, that democracies probably have a bargaining advantage in international crises. Relative audience costs, in Fearon’smodel, matter a great deal: “the side with a stronger domestic audience (forexample, a democracy) is always less likely to back down than the side lessable to generate audience costs (a nondemocracy).”4 Fearon himself, to besure, was quite cautious in developing that argument. The idea that democratic leaders “have an easier time generating audience costs” he advancedsimply as a “plausible working hypothesis.”5 Other writers, however, havemade stronger claims, and the basic idea that the audience costs mechanismgives democracies a certain bargaining advantage, especially in crisis situations, is taken quite seriously in the international relations literature.1 James Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes, AmericanPolitical Science Review 88, no. 3 (September 1994): 578, 586, 579.2 Ibid., 579 (for the quotation), 577–78.3 Alastair Smith, “International Crises and Domestic Politics,” American Political Science Review 92,no. 3 (September 1998): 623 (emphasis added).4 Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences,” 577.5 Ibid., 582.

Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 2012Audience Costs5Fearon and other scholars who argued in that vein were basically making a theoretical argument, and they developed that argument by showinghow particular models work; but a theory is of value only to the extent thatit rings true when one examines the empirical evidence. And clearly their assumption was that the “audience costs story” was empirically plausible—thatit was empirically true that many crises appear “as competitions in creatingdomestic political audience costs.”6 Fearon’s argument, as he himself pointedout, was rooted in an “empirical claim, namely that crises are public eventscarried out in front of domestic political audiences and that this fact is crucialto understanding why they occur and how they unfold.”7Does the audience costs theory in fact hold up in the light of the empirical evidence? It is not obvious how one should go about answering thisquestion. Direct statistical tests, as Kenneth Schultz points out, “are fraughtwith methodological difficulties.”8 The more effective the audience costsmechanism is, the less likely it is that audience costs themselves would actually be incurred (since the opposing side would back down). “This createsa problem for statistical inference,” Schultz notes, “because the outcomesthat we observe should be associated with lower domestic costs, on average, than the outcomes that we do not observe.”9 It is hard, therefore, todraw inferences about how powerful the audience costs mechanism is byjust studying the costs that are actually incurred; and yet statistical inferencedeals with observables.If direct tests are impossible, one can always try to infer additionalpropositions from the model and subject them to empirical analysis. Theproblem here, however, is that those propositions might also be consistentwith very different sets of assumptions. Hypotheses inferred from an audience costs model might thus make perfect sense to people who do not findthe audience costs theory plausible, so even if a statistical analysis supportsthose hypotheses, that finding would not convince these skeptics that thetheory is basically valid. Given these problems, perhaps the best way to geta handle on this issue is to do historical analysis. “Where large sample statistical tests come up short,” Schultz writes, historical case studies “may bethe most effective way of deciding whether the search for audience costs isa fruitful enterprise.”10So my goal here is to examine the audience costs theory in the light ofthe historical evidence—that is, to see how much of a role the audience costsmechanism, as Fearon defined it, plays in determining the way internationalcrises run their course. I will be looking at a set of crises—episodes in which6 James Fearon, “Signaling Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands versus Sinking Costs,” Journal ofConflict Resolution 41, no. 1 (February 1997): 68, and also 87.7 Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences,” 577.8 Kenneth Schultz, “Looking for Audience Costs,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 45, no. 1 (February2001): 35.9 Ibid., 33.10 Ibid., 53.

Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 20126M. Trachtenbergthere was a significant perceived risk of war—involving great powers, atleast one of which was a democracy, and that were settled without war.These criteria were chosen for the following reasons. The cases are allcrises because the Fearon theory explicitly deals with crises, but I will belooking only at great power crises for essentially practical reasons. In crisesbetween minor powers, or between a great power and a minor power, thepossibility of intervention on the part of an outside great power is oftenvery real, and this considerably complicates the analysis. Great power crisesgenerally have a simpler structure, so their logic should stand out moreclearly; and that means that if audience costs play a key role in shapingoutcomes, that role should be easier to see in such cases.The focus here, moreover, is on crises in which at least one of thecontending parties is a democracy, since much of the debate on this issuehas to do with whether the audience costs mechanism gives democraciesan advantage over non-democratic regimes. This means that the crises to beexamined all took place after 1867. It was in that year, with the passage of theSecond Reform Act, that Great Britain became a democracy, or at least that iswhat both historians and political scientists commonly argue. No other greatpower (if certain brief revolutionary periods in France are ignored) could beconsidered a democracy before that point.Finally, only those crises that did not terminate in war will be examinedhere. The rationale has to do with the basic thrust of the Fearon theory.His argument, both in his audience costs paper and in his very importantarticle “Rationalist Explanations for War,” is that rational states in a senseshould be able to reach a bargain that would enable them to avoid war butsometimes cannot do so because they suspect each other of bluffing.11 Itfollows that anything that would allow them to credibly reveal their actualpreferences might point the way to a clear outcome and thus enable them tohead off an armed conflict, and the audience costs mechanism, in Fearon’sview, provides an effective way for them to do so. What this means is thatif this mechanism is as important as Fearon suggests, we are more likely tosee it in operation in crises that end peacefully than in those that end inwar.That set of criteria generates a list of about a dozen crises: the “Warin-Sight” crisis of 1875; the Eastern Crisis of 1877–78; the Fashoda crisis; thetwo Moroccan crises; the Rhineland crisis of 1936; the Czech crisis of 1938;the Turkish and Iranian crises of 1946; the Berlin Blockade of 1948; and theBerlin and Cuban crises of 1958–62. This is not a long list, and all of thoseepisodes will be examined here. But there is nothing sacrosanct about thatset of crises. One could easily argue, for example, that China was a greatpower in the 1950s and that the Sino-American crises of that decade should111995).James Fearon, “Rationalist Explanations for War,” International Organization 49, no. 3 (Summer

Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 2012Audience Costs7be included in the list. I have no fundamental quarrel with arguments of thatsort. I assume only that if the audience costs mechanism is as powerful asmany scholars believe, we should see it at work in crises that unambiguouslymeet the criteria laid out here and especially in the crises discussed in thenext section.That section will deal with crises in which a democratic powerprevailed—that is, with crises in which its opponent backed down. Theseare the cases in which the audience costs mechanism is most likely to haveplayed an important role, but how important was it in reality? Did the democratic state deliberately try to exploit it, and (more importantly) did thatstate’s opponent pull back because it could now see that the democraticpower’s threats were credible because audience costs would be incurred ifthat power gave way in the dispute? The section after that, much shorterand less systematic, will look at what happens when democracies lose. Howmuch of a price do their leaders pay in such cases and how does it comparewith the price paid by leaders in non-democratic regimes? Finally, in a concluding section, I will discuss the basic points that emerge from this analysisand what the findings here imply about the way this sort of issue needs tobe studied.WHEN DEMOCRACIES PREVAILIn this section, we will look at great power crises that were won bydemocracies—five cases from the pre-World War I period and five fromthe Cold War period. We will be interested in two main questions. The moreminor question has to do with the tactics employed by the democratic power.Audience costs theorists sometimes suggest that the leaders of those countries choose to “go public” in a crisis with the deliberate goal of “burningtheir bridges” or “tying their hands” in order to gain a bargaining advantage.12 But how often do those leaders in fact opt for tactics of that sort? Thesecond and far more important question focuses on the calculations of theiradversaries. Whatever the intentions of the leaders of the democratic state,the audience costs mechanism can be decisive only if the opposing powerunderstands why it would be hard for those leaders to back down. Unlessthe adversary is able to see why the democratic power’s leaders’ hands aretied, it would have no reason to conclude that they are not bluffing. So forthe audience costs argument to hold, the adversary power has to understandthat the democratic leaders would find it hard to give way for fear of incurring audience costs. But do governments confronting democratic statesactually make this kind of calculation?12 Fearon talks, for example, about why leaders “would want to be able to generate significantaudience costs in international contests.” Fearon, “Domestic Political Audiences,” 585.

8M. TrachtenbergDownloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 2012The “War-in-Sight” Crisis (1875)On 9 April 1875, the Berlin Post published an article called “Is War in Sight?”arguing that because of developments in France, a Franco-German war mightwell be imminent. The Post was closely linked to the German government,and other newspapers with official connections sounded similar themes. Itwas commonly assumed at the time that German chancellor Otto von Bismarck was behind the press campaign, and it seems quite clear in retrospectthat that assumption was correct.13 Certainly Bismarck himself, both at thetime and earlier, and both openly and in private, had argued that a preventive war against France would be justified as soon as it became clear thatan armed confrontation was inevitable. Other German leaders also defendedthe idea of a preventive war in talks with foreign diplomats.14What was Bismarck up to? Following her defeat in 1871, France hadbeen forced to cede Alsace and much of Lorraine to Germany, but theFrench never accepted that arrangement as final. France was rebuilding hermilitary strength, but unless she had allies she could pose no real threatto Germany. The danger was that a strong France might ally with one ormore of Germany’s neighbors, and that danger would be particularly greatif, as seemed possible, the monarchists, who in 1875 controlled the Frenchgovernment, seized power in that country. Strong pressure therefore had tobe brought to bear to prevent that from happening. Germany’s threateningbehavior might convince the French to pursue a non-provocative policy. Itmight persuade French voters to back the republicans, or at least keep themonarchists from attempting a coup.15If, however, Germany had an interest in keeping France as weak andas isolated as possible, the other main powers had an interest in a relativelystrong France as a counterweight to Germany. The Russian and British governments thus sought to make sure Germany did not attack France, but whenRussian leaders, with British support, brought up the issue in Berlin, theyhad little trouble getting the assurances they wanted. Bismarck had beenbluffing. When his bluff was called, he had little choice but to give way, andthat was the end of the crisis.What does this story tell us about the audience costs theory? The audience costs mechanism played no real role at all in this crisis. Britain, the oneclearly democratic power, intervened, but in a fairly low-key way, especiallyas far as the public was concerned. It had not engaged in “costly signaling.”“What we did,” the foreign secretary wrote, “involved no risk and cost no13 See James Stone, The War Scare of 1875: Bismarck and Europe in the Mid-1870s (Stuttgart: FranzSteiner, 2010), 212–24.14 For a general account, see Stone, War Scare, 224–45.15 This is basically Stone’s argument.

Downloaded by [University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)] at 09:33 09 April 2012Audience Costs9trouble.”16 And even after the crisis had been settled, the government didnot try to cash in on its “victory” in domestic political terms. It sought to playdown what it had done and to stress how “unostentatious” its policy hadbeen; the details of its action were deliberately not revealed to the nation.17Indeed, it is hard to see how the fact that Britain was now a democracymade any difference at all—how the democratic system gave British leadersmore effective tools for the conduct of foreign policy than those t

a handle on this issue is to do historical analysis. “Where large sample sta-tistical tests come up short,” Schultz writes, historical case studies “may be the most effective way of deciding whether the search for audience costs is a fruitful enterprise.”10 So my goal here is to examine the audience costs theory in the light of

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