Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Domestic Crisis Politics of Russian Foreign Policy Rhetoric

NYT reports that the Russian media's reaction to the arrival of Michael McFaul, President Obama's new ambassador, has been remarkably virulent.
In the annals of American diplomacy, few honeymoons have been shorter than the one granted to Michael A. McFaul , who arrived in Russia on Jan. 14 as the new American ambassador. 
It was toward the end of his second full day on the job when a commentator on state-controlled Channel 1 suggested during a prime-time newscast that Mr. McFaul was sent to Moscow to foment revolution. A columnist for the newspaper Izvestia chimed in the next day, saying his appointment marked a return to the 18th century, when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business.”
This is only the most recent of the vocal attacks on U.S. "interventionism" that have been coming from the Kremlin over the past year, and particularly in the months leading up to the Duma and Presidential elections. PM Putin's suggestion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was responsible for the December protests, President Medvedev's threat to move Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad in response to US missile defense plans, and the Kremlin's persistent criticism of perceived NATO overreach in the Libya operation all illustrate a pattern of increased verbal hostility towards Washington.

The official and semi-official rhetoric appears to be outpacing both reality and actual Russian policy. Certainly calling Ambassador McFaul "not a Russia expert" is stretching the bounds of language itself. But despite suggestions that the Kremlin's increasingly harsh tone signals the end of the "reset," the incentives for cooperation remain strong in key areas. Indeed, the Libya case reveals that the Russian government is perfectly capable of both rhetorically opposing and substantively accepting U.S. action. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher is likewise sanguine about Russian missile defense rhetoric:
In a November speech, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggested talks had broken down and he threatened several retaliatory measures, including Russia's potential withdrawal from the New START nuclear reductions agreement. 
Tauscher responded that these statements were part of the Russian campaign season and that progress would speed up once the March Presidential elections in Russia had subsided. She also acknowledged that the Russians are demanding a legally binding document from the Obama administration promising U.S. missile defenses in Europe will not impact Russia's strategic deterrent, which Tauscher said they will never get.
So the recent surge in confrontational rhetoric appears to be primarily a reaction to domestic political developments. It is reasonable to expect that the Kremlin, facing flagging popularity and an increasingly vocal public opposition, will try to leverage the traditional bogeymen of NATO and Western interventionism more broadly as a means of consolidating support. However, I am skeptical regarding whether this will actually be effective.

What accounts for the rise and fall of public support for the Russian leadership over the past 10 years? The traditional "story" behind Vladimir Putin's surging popularity over the 2000s is that it was fueled by strong economic growth on the basis of high oil prices. This graph shows the correlation between Putin's monthly approval ratings (as gathered by the Levada Center) and the spot price for Brent oil lagged by 2 months (obtained from the Energy Information Administration) for the years 2000 to 2010.

Indeed, higher oil prices, which serve as a good proxy for Russian economic performance overall given how crucial the oil sector is to the economy, tend to be associated with higher approval levels (r = .5531). However, when you add 2011, the relationship begins to break down. The graph below adds in the ratings for 2011 - highlighted in red.

Despite the recovery in oil prices after the 2008 crash, Putin's approval rating has plunged below 70% (levels not seen since the months after the Ukrainian Orange Revolution). The link between oil and popularity has become much weaker (r = 0.2576).

Why is this so? Consider a third factor - Russian attitudes towards the United States - a somewhat general proxy for pro-western/anti-western sentiment. The next graph shows the monthly U.S. disapproval rating (as provided by Levada Center) against Putin's monthly approval rating:

There does appear to be a relatively strong relationship between negative opinions of the U.S. and positive opinions of Putin (r = 0.5306). Moreover, the data from 2011 actually fits the trend - recent polls have indicated that Russians have a much more positive attitude toward the United States than in previous years. Does this mean that Putin's popularity stems more from his government's ability to frame the "West" as a threat and generate a "rally 'round the flag" effect than Russia's economic growth? Probably no. The correlation may simply indicate that low levels of popularity mean that the public is less willing to "buy" the government's foreign policy rhetoric (i.e. the relationship goes the other way). It may also suggest a third variable that correlates with both - something like "trust in government." If it is relatively low now (as the protests may suggest), then boisterous foreign policy rhetoric is less likely to be taken seriously. Indeed, the decline in the popularity of television and the rise of the internet may be cutting into the credibility of the Kremlin's traditional anti-U.S. messaging strategy.

It may be that the two narratives behind Putin's popularity, the economic growth story and the "enemies abroad" story, are intertwined. The ability of the Putin/Medvedev government to benefit politically from economic growth rests on whether or not the public accepts the linkage between the economy and the government's actions - that is, that the government deserves credit for the improvement in living standards. This only happens when the public generally sees the government's messaging as credible. Public opinion of the United States may therefore be a proxy measure of how much the public believes the Kremlin's narrative generally, particularly since the growth and foreign policy messages are often mixed (Putin has tended to link Russia's economic resurgence to its "sovereign democracy" and its "regained" influence and independence on the international stage). In this case, there may be an interaction between the two variables - high levels of growth (oil prices) translate into higher levels of support for Putin if U.S. disapproval is also high.

The table below gives the results of a series of linear regressions with approval rating as the dependent variable:

Independent Variable 1 - no 2011 2 - include 2011 3 - include 2011 4 - include 2011
Lagged DV 0.6064*** 0.7399*** 0.7346*** 0.7240***
(8.83) (12.55) (9.40) (9.35)
Brent Oil Price - Lag 2 Mo. 0.0519*** 0.0142 0.0024 -0.0678
(3.51) (1.25) (0.16) (-1.55)
U.S. Disapproval 0.1297** -0.0080
(2.35) (-0.08)
Interaction Effect 0.0020*
Constant 27.3272*** 18.8144*** 15.2262*** 20.7430***
(5.59) (4.32) (2.85) (3.35)
Adjusted R^2 0.5680 0.5639 0.6640 0.6727
Num. of observations 126 137 76 76

T-values in parentheses. * = 90% significance, ** = 95% significance, *** = 99%+ significance

I included a lagged dependent variable in each regression to account for autocorrelation. The first three regressions generally confirm the argument made in the previous graphs - approval rating correlates with both oil prices and U.S. disapproval through 2001-2010 but U.S. disapproval is the better predictor when including 2011. However, regression number four is interesting. The interaction effect is significant and positive at the 90% level, giving some limited support to the above hypothesis. 

Of course the "story time" part of this analysis is getting far ahead of the data - 90% significance is a relatively low bar and the accuracy of many of the proxies and assumptions that I'm using is questionable. Oil prices may not be the best measure of economic performance (per capita income is likely better, though I was unable to find monthly data). Moreover, the size of the sample is tiny and plagued with missing data. Nevertheless, this is a blog post and the initial results do suggest some interesting speculation/avenues for further research.

While I expect that the Russian government will continue its rhetoric over "U.S. interventionism," I highly doubt that it will have any significant effect on either Russian citizens' approval of the United States or of the government/Putin/Medvedev. It is difficult to make any meaningful predictions about the future of the opposition protests or the survival of the Putin/Medvedev tandem after the presidential elections. However, the data do suggest that the government is in trouble - it can no longer rely on a steady stream of oil income to assure public support. In fact, that "support" was hollow to begin with and confrontational showmanship is unlikely to bring it back. Stephen Holmes' recent piece in the London Review of Books summarizes this sentiment quite succinctly:
Some of the time, at least, rulers become fleetingly popular because they are believed to wield power. From the predictable tendency of opportunistic citizens to flock obsequiously to the power-wielders of the day it follows that an incumbent who seems to be losing power may see his poll-tested ‘popularity’ vanish overnight. 
This is the nightmare now faced by Putin’s team. Keen to avoid any appearance of weakness, they are well aware that public support can be artificially inflated by the illusion of power. They have long depended on theatrical displays which, however easy to stage, gave spectators an outsize sense of what the government could achieve...Can an internally warring, socially detached and rapacious oligarchy hold onto power with only a minimum use of violence now that such electoral fakery seems to have outlived its usefulness?
Edit 1/25: Fixed the title on the third graph

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA: Or the Fight Between NorCal and SoCal

Created using Google Fusion Tables

Interestingly, Issa and Campbell (districts 48 and 49) deviate from the pattern.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hungary: International Institutions and Democracy?

The New York Times reports that the EU appears to be responding to some of the recent highly contentious laws adopted by the Hungarian government
Reawakening a debate on what the European Union should do when one of its members threatens its democratic principles, the bloc’s executive arm opened legal proceedings on Tuesday against Hungary, which critics contend is sliding toward authoritarianism. 
It had been more than 10 years since the union faced a similar dilemma, when an Austrian coalition government included a far-right party. Austria was forced into semi-isolation when the bloc’s other countries severed political ties. 
The government of Hungary, by contrast, is being taken to task on technicalities rather than the wider claims that it is undermining democracy, centralizing power and destroying pluralism. 
On Tuesday, the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, said it was starting proceedings over Hungarian measures that threaten the independence of the country’s central bank and its data-protection authority, and over rules on the retirement age of judges. Ultimately, Hungary can be forced to change rules that breach European law or, if it refuses, can be taken to the European Court of Justice.
Joshua Tucker over at The Monkey Cage recently covered the massive controversy over the conservative Fidesz party's move to introduce a new constitution that many argue consolidates too much power in the hands of the ruling administration and moves Hungary in an increasingly undemocratic direction. While a number of EU leaders have openly decried the new constitution, the Times article points out that the European Commission is currently focusing on a narrow and largely technical subset of the controversial package of laws, mostly with regards to central bank and judicial independence. Certainly the EU has the authority to levy Article 7 sanctions (which include fines and the suspension of voting rights) against Hungary for many more of the anti-democratic provisions in the new constitution. However, given current political tensions within Europe, it appears that the European Commission is treading carefully (although according to the Telegraph EC officials have hinted that these initial complaints are just the "tip of the iceberg"). Will the EU then continue to put pressure on Hungary to reverse more of its anti-democratic laws if Hungary relents on the three currently in dispute? Moreover, would a rebuke by the EU be politically damaging enough to the Fidesz party to give the opposition a chance to sweep them out of office or is their current supermajority resilient enough to survive a conflict with the Union?

More generally though, how good are international organizations at promoting and consolidating democracy? Jon Pevehouse (gated)(ungated) argues that membership in international institutions that have a large proportion of democratic states - a high "democratic density" - can help stabilize democracies and check potential rollbacks. Regional institutions that share common democratic interests can impose external costs on leaders that follow undemocratic policies by restricting access to the benefits of membership. Perhaps the most recent example of such pressure was the Organization of American States' decision to suspend the membership of Honduras after that country's leader, Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in a coup in 2009. The OAS reinstated Honduras' membership in 2011 after Zelaya was allowed to return from exile.

Pevehouse suggests that international organizations that have the political will to coordinate on conditions for membership and to enforce these conditions (i.e. organizations with members that have common goals) will be better able to generate penalties for anti-democratic behavior as they can make more credible threats. Regional organizations (which tend to be more valued due to their proximity) that are highly democratic (and thereby able to coordinate on promoting democracy) therefore tend to be the most effective at punishing states that take anti-democratic actions.

Certainly the European Union is an example of such an organization so one can expect the actions of the EC to be taken very seriously by Fidesz. Moreover, the fact that Hungary's leaders have been lobbying the EU for an economic rescue package to boost the country's flagging economy gives the union even more leverage in enforcing conditions. However, in the short term, conditionality can only go so far. While the reversal of the small set of policies isolated by the EC may be a concession the Hungarian government is willing to make, how many more changes can the EU demand before its threats are no longer credible?

Perhaps the more relevant question is whether a policy reversal on the part of Fidesz will also weaken the party in future elections. The literature on "audience costs" and interstate bargaining (i.e. Fearon, 1994) argues that democratic leaders who back down in a crisis suffer public opinion setbacks as they may appear weak and/or politically ineffective. Therefore, even if the EU only exerts pressure on a few issues, it may have the effect of weakening the overall clout of the current government. Conversely though, a political crisis with the EU may generate a kind of "rally 'round the flag" effect as conservative leaders pander to eurosceptic sentiment to gain support. Such an outcome would likely strengthen the conservative government's power and exacerbate tensions with other European states. Unfortunately, I am not enough of an expert on Hungarian domestic politics to get a sense of which effect would "win out" (nor am I familiar with any research comparing the two effects in general).

Nevertheless, the controversy with the European Union could itself become valuable to Hungarian activists. By acting as a symbolic center of attention it may help to unite a diverse base of political actors around a single cross-cutting issue - the government's new constitution. Indeed, the logic behind Joshua Tucker's argument that electoral fraud in Russia may have been an important "focal point" for the recent protests may be somewhat applicable in the case of Hungary as well. A public censure by the EU could provide a central coordination mechanism around which citizens could mobilize and thereby serve as a means of solving the "collective action problem" facing any protest movement.

Edit: 12:43 AM 1/18

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When do states cut subsidies?

AP is reporting that the negotiations between Nigerian labor unions and the Jonathan government have broken down and that protests against the government's fuel subsidy cuts are likely to continue.

Independent of any potential economic benefits, it is clear that the cuts are politically costly. And, as the first rule of political economy dictates, politics trumps economics. Indeed, its remarkable that someone like Paul Collier so quickly dismisses the Nigerian protests as "poor people tricked into lobbying for greedy elites" and equates protesters with the Tea Party while briefly skimming over the fact that food and transportation costs for ordinary Nigerians have doubled as a result of the shock. I cannot understand how the reasonable response to seeing one's cost of living skyrocket in a span of a few days as a result of government policy is to just accept it, move on and not protest (but again, I'm not an economist). Yes, the subsidy was distortionary, unsustainable, and a means for fueling corruption, but removing it in one sudden swoop, without meaningful consultation and without a real plan for ameliorating the massive adjustment costs will not eliminate corruption and will only serve to reinforce the sentiment that Nigeria's nascent democracy is not responsive to its people. All of the government's rhetoric about how the subsidy affects the rich more than it does the poor is a small consolation (and blindly ignores diminishing marginal returns to income). 

Given the ongoing political fallout, the real question is why did the Nigerian government choose to enact such a drastic policy if it (likely) knew that the cuts would generate such a heavy public backlash? Colleague Daniel Solomon recently hinted at national-regional elite struggles as one rationale. Indeed, given Nigeria's history of center-periphery tensions and the recent attacks by Boko Haram, the Nigerian government may have thought of subsidy removal as a way to curb the revenue streams of regional elites and strengthen the authority of the center. But even here, the policy could backfire as these same regional elites can take advantage of public anti-government anger to increase their personal legitimacy. This appears to be taking place. Local governors - particularly those in the north - are already negotiating for a more advantageous subsidy regime that would shift more of the burden onto the more urbanized southern states. Moreover, these leaders are also seeking to boost their own public support by appearing responsive to public concerns and trying cushion the blow of higher transportation costs. Its unclear in this case whether the benefits to the center outweigh the public opinion costs (especially given the ongoing strike). 

This provokes another interesting question. What makes a government more or less likely to cut subsidies? The logic above suggests that the level of democracy plays an important role. Leaders that depend on public support for survival will be more heavily deterred from slashing transfer programs than those that only need to satisfy a limited group of elites.

My Google Scholar searches could not find any previous papers that dealt systematically with the domestic politics of subsidy cuts, so I put together a quick test. Using the IMF's Government Finance Statistics dataset (available at the ICPSR) I calculated the year-to-year changes in government spending on subsidies and other transfers for each country. I added a dummy variable that took on the value of 1 when the changes were negative (representing cuts) and 0 when they were positive or nil. I then merged the IMF data (stupid IMF country codes) with the Quality of Government time-series dataset and ran a series of logit regressions with the cuts variable as the response and Polity IV democracy score (higher = more democratic), International Country Risk Guide quality of governance score (higher = less corrupt), and real per-capita GDP as the independent variables. The results are below (coefficients are in terms of the log-odds):
Variable Coefficient Std. Error Z-score p > abs(z)
Democracy -0.1664171 0.0327781 -5.08 0
Quality of Governance -0.9525243 0.7546757 -1.26 0.207
Real GDP per Capita 0.0000372 0.000021 1.77 0.077
Of the three variables, democracy is the only one significant at the 95% level (though RGDP per Capita is significant at 90%). The negative effect is as expected - higher levels of democracy reduce the odds of a subsidy cut in any given year. Replacing democracy with the winning coalition measures in Bueno de Mesquita et. al. (2003) gives similar results, suggesting that the effect may be due to democratic leaders having to appeal to the population at large as opposed to regime insiders in order to survive.

One avenue for further research is to ask is whether corruption has an effect independent of democracy. The results weakly suggest that lower levels of corruption decrease the odds of subsidy cuts but the effect is not significant. However, the two measures are highly correlated. Including quality of governance but not democracy in the regression returns a negative and significant coefficient. The effect also makes sense - more corrupt governments may prefer to funnel funds into private coffers as opposed to spending them on large-scale public transfer payments. In the case of Nigeria, extreme levels of corruption (it's ranked 143rd on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index) make it difficult for the Jonathan government to credibly assure Nigerian citizens that savings from the subsidy will not merely be distributed among elites. High levels of corruption may therefore be a barrier to subsidy removal. Amegashie (2006) suggests that:
If economic agents do not trust their governments and believe their most of their taxes are used for the private gain of politicians, then they might agitate for subsidies  on certain commodities as a way of getting a piece of the national pie. Subsidies, no matter how inefficient, may then be used by the electorate as a way of getting politicians to commit to some form of credible redistribution.  
Although a deterrence effect is not apparent in my tests, it may be that subsidy cuts, ceteris paribus, spark greater public protests in countries with higher levels of corruption. Unfortunately, I don't know any other good time-series measure of domestic unrest other than the Banks dataset (which Georgetown, to my knowledge, does not have), so I was unable to do a quick regression with STATA.

Edit: 6:34 PM 1/15/2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Effectiveness of Sanctioning Iran - A Question of Regime Type

A pretty surprising Washington Post article came up on my newsreader today that quoted an unnamed U.S. intelligence official suggesting that the administration's "goal" in sanctioning Iran was to create "regime change." At first my response was a rather nonchalant "obviously." Certainly any state trying to use sanctions as a tool of coercion wants them to pose a credible threat to the targeted regime, otherwise there is no point. If the "goal" of sanctions isn't to jeopardize a leader's survival, then that leader has no meaningful incentive to change behavior. But, as Phil Arena tweeted back, that's not really the "goal" of sanctions, but rather the means by which sanctions achieve the true objective of changing an actor's behavior. If the "goal" of sanctions was really to collapse the current leadership, then concessions on Iran's nuclear program would be irrelevant - the change in behavior desired is the non-existence of the regime as opposed to the mere non-existence of Iranian nuclear weapons. Such a policy would indeed be a dramatic "bombshell"

Luckily the Washington Post quickly posted a clarification that better reflected what the sources actually said and more or less confirmed my initial reaction of "not news."
The Obama administration sees economic sanctions against Iran as building public discontent that will help compel the government to abandon an alleged nuclear weapons program, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.
Crisis averted.

However, what did surprise me was the emphasis on "public discontent" as the mechanism for putting pressure on an authoritarian regime. Certainly riots and protests are inconvenient for Iran's leadership, but absent critical defections from regime insiders, Iran's current authorities can still repress their way to survival as long as they maintain their core group of supporters. Dan Drezner at FP made this point in a post yesterday:
Based on how the leadership has treated domestic unrest, it seems clear that the top leadership is perfectly comfortable following The Dictator's Handbook approach to staying in power. More-powerful sanctions will therefore simply lead to more-powerful crackdowns. If Iranian elites view the nuclear program as the key to preventing outside attempts at forcible regime change, there's no way they'll compromise.
So when and how would sanctions be effective against an authoritarian regime? While it has been argued that autocracies are overall less vulnerable to sanctions than democracies (precisely because of the effect described above), recent research suggests that the type of autocracy may matter. EscribĂ -Folch and Wright (2010) (ungated) argue that personalist regimes, weakly institutionalized autocracies centered around a single autocrat, are particularly vulnerable to sanctions as their existence depends on the maintenance of strong patronage networks to pacify other elites. Single-party regimes, however, are less vulnerable as their patronage is based more on granting loyal elites "access" to the policy-making apparatus. These regimes are also better able to recapture revenue lost due to sanctions as they have greater institutional capacity.

But where does Iran fall? The answer is rather unclear. Iran's theocratic government appears to be a blend of both single-party and personalist characteristics (Ulfelder (2005) (gated), following Geddes' (1999) original typology categorizes it as a hybrid regime). Although institutionalized through a complex clerical structure, power is ultimately concentrated in the hands of the Supreme Leader who controls access to important decision-making posts. Yet when it comes to regime survival (our variable of interest), Geddes (2003) finds that such hybrid regimes tend to behave more like personalist ones (82). Moreover, Alamdari (2005) (ungated) suggests that Iran specifically reflects a highly personalistic patronage structure indicative of a weak center. Multiple autonomous bases of power exist and they are tenuously connected by the threads of economic relations (i.e. oil revenues) and access to power. He argues that:

Clientelism as a multi-power structure dominates in a situation of weak central government, or it may undermine the authority of a legal government. It explains the numerous centres of power in Iran challenging each other and the elected government. According to one source, after the election of 1997 three parallel  governments under the leadership of Mohammad  Khatami (president), Ali  Khamenei (the supreme leader), and Rafsanjani (head of the Expediency Council) formed in Iran. Iran is among the rare countries in the world with two official armies (a conventional army and  the  Revolutionary  Guards)  and two judicial  systems  (regular and revolutionary). Six central legislative institutions-the  Majlis, the Council for the Cultural Revolution,  the Council for National  Security, the Council of Guardians, the Expediency Council, and the  Council of Ministers-are influenced by various groups. There are many contradictory economic  and financial policies, and several parallel selected and elected political leaders, plus many powerful shadow governments behind the scene. (1291-1292)

Certainly the most recent conflicts between Ahmadinejad and Khameni are also a potential hint of such intra-elite tensions. If sanctions weaken the patronage webs that allow these multiple competing power centers to tenuously co-exist, then it is possible that the risk of elite defection (and thereby a potentially credible threat of regime collapse) could result.

Of course there are countless other factors that could mitigate the effectiveness of sanctions. Compliance is a definite factor, especially given a valuable commodity such as oil. Indeed EscribĂ -Folch and Wright (2010) find some support (though not statistically significant) for the argument that oil-producing states are less likely to be affected by sanctions since rents from production are high enough to off-set the external costs. Generally speaking, autocracies are more resilient in the face of sanctions. However, given the current Iranian power structure, there is a distinct possibility that sanctions could exacerbate conflicts among elites and thus be a somewhat effective coercive strategy (though one that is not particularly dependent on mass mobilization).

As a final note, research on autocracy type and the effectiveness of popular mobilization suggests the opposite. Single-party regimes are actually more susceptible to domestic opposition movements than personalist regimes (see Ulfelder (2005)). We will have to wait and see whether Iran's hybrid autocracy exaggerates the resiliencies or the deficiencies of the two.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Libya, the ICC and Credible Commitments

The Libyan National Transitional Council's reception of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has sparked some consternation regarding the NTC's commitment to the rule-of-law given outstanding International Criminal Court warrant for Bashir's arrest. Fellow Georgetowner Daniel Solomon posted a very good response yesterday, arguing that the NTC's decision to welcome Bashir and spurn the ICC warrant is largely reflective of its overriding interest in maintaining good relations with its neighbor (which actively supported the anti-Gaddafi forces) rather than a massive rule-of-law failure. Certainly short-term political gains would overwhelm any ancillary benefit to the NTC for enforcing the ICC warrant, particularly seeing as Libya remains a non-signatory to the Rome Statute.

Yet as Daniel points out, the NTC has also been wary about ICC prosecution of Gaddafi-era crimes, preferring instead to prosecute through domestic courts. Does the NTC's avoidance of the ICC therefore say anything about its domestic rule-of-law commitment?

I argue that it might, though not in the way that one might expect. Paradoxically, political science theory suggests that a state with a recent history of civil war that has a strong commitment to rule-of-law will be less likely to bind itself to the ICC. The explanation lies in the intersection between the role of IOs and Libyan domestic political imperatives. Leaders are very careful about surrendering state sovereignty to international organizations and only do so when there is a clear political benefit. Credible commitment or "hand-tying" theories of international institutions emphasize the advantages of being restrained by an external actor. Governments may want to convince domestic audiences that they will refrain from a particular behavior but lack the ability to make that commitment believable. International agreements provide a means of signalling credibility since enforcement is no longer in the hands of the (untrustworthy) government.

Simmons and Danner (2010) (gated)(ungated but older) argue that the ICC is an example of such a "hand-tying" institution. Paradoxically, they find that nondemocracies and weak rule-of-law countries with a recent history of civil war are actually highly likely to sign on to the ICC but that democracies and states with strong rule-of-law that also have a recent history of civil war are some of the least likely to sign. Credible commitment theory provides an explanation for this pattern. Governments would like to signal to the various post-civil war factions (in particular their opponents) that they will refrain from committing atrocities (in order to prevent a return to civil war). However, without democratic accountability or strong rule of law, such signals tend to lack substance. The ICC therefore provides a means for constraining leaders that simply does not exist at the domestic level. When states do have these sorts of local commitment mechanisms, the incentives for joining the ICC decrease.

If the commitment explanation for state behavior is accurate, then the NTC's tenuous relationship with the International Criminal Court may suggest a belief by Libyan transitional leaders that their domestic reforms are a sufficient signal that they will not return to Gaddafi-style repression. Given the NTC's professed goal of establishing democratic and accountable institutions, one would expect Libya to be less likely to turn to the ICC as a post-civil war commitment mechanism, given that the sovereignty costs are still high, but the signalling benefits are not uniquely advantageous. However, the task of disarming militias and integrating fighters remains daunting and if not done properly, could increase the risk of renewed violence.  Indeed, if the NTC begins to lack credibility in the eyes of some factions, then it may start looking outward to international organizations as a means of reassurance.

Certainly it is too early to predict the attitude of the new Libyan state toward the International Criminal Court. However, past research suggests that a state's level of commitment to the rule-of-law does not necessarily correspond to its level of commitment to international legal institutions. One should be wary about making direct inferences between the two as international organizations and domestic legal systems have very distinct purposes.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why Another Blog?

Welcome to yet another foray into the political science blogosphere. I am (at the time of this writing) an undergraduate senior at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service studying international politics with a focus on international organizations. My post-graduation plans revolve primarily around pursuing graduate studies in political science with an aim toward a career in academia. 

So why write a blog?

First, I hope to use this blog as somewhat of an sketchpad for research. Political science blogging has over the past few years become an interesting conduit for conducting brief and unconventional research outside of the traditional publication pipeline. These can be rather "half-baked ideas," unfiltered by time and peer review. However, this sort of "rapid research" can be a great way of responding to current affairs in a way that is much more timely than journal publication. Likewise, it can be a great way of filtering preliminary ideas for more extensive work, provoking useful debate and discussion. Blogging is simply more accessible than journal publication, especially for a novice researcher.

Second, the blog will try to provide insightful commentary on current global politics from the perspective of an (aspiring) political scientist. Along with producing new research, I hope to apply existing research to salient and timely policy questions to generate something that approximates "informed" analysis. Most posts will focus on my primary academic interest, international relations, but expect frequent dabbling in comparative politics, american politics (especially during the election season), and statistics. 

Ultimately the format and purpose of this blog are heavily inspired by the many political science blogs that have arisen over the past few years, especially The Monkey Cage. Expect general wonkishness, occasional outbursts of internet humor, and hopefully enough quality content to keep readers interested.