James D. Morrow, “The Strategic Setting of Choices: Signaling, Commitment, and Negotiation in International Politics,” in Lake and Powell, Strategic Choice, pp. 77-114.
Summary by Taylor
Main Point: Both strategic settings and preferences determine actors’ choices, and the choices of many actors determine outcomes. Since the choices of other actors affect the final result, an actor cannot simply chose a course that will lead to its desired outcome. From this, three different strategic problems (among others) arise: signaling, commitment, and bargaining. Understanding domestic politics is necessary to understanding strategic choice.
Security Dilemma and Three Strategic Problems
The security dilemma states that states are not only interested in their own security, because the growth in one’s power makes another less secure. If all states were interested solely in security and their sole interest was known to all, no state would seek to overturn the status quo, but uncertaintly about others ambitions leads to this dilemma.
Signaling can occur when one actor knows something of relevance to another actor’s decisions; signaling is a way to consider the problem of unknown motivation. It is an action an actor takes that hints at their type (an actor’s true motivations determines its type). Sometimes an actor would take a specific action regardless of their type, this is when types pool, but when an action distinguishes one type from another, then there is a separation of types. One cannot always infer preferences from action. Separation of types is central to successful signaling, which can be done through costs (costly signaling). Increasing one’s costs of taking an action (say the audience costs of domestic political unrest at going to war) helps assure another actor of their type (a state that does not want war). Also, if simple military capabilities determined outcome, then actors would never go to war when they would lose, but unobservable factors determine conflict ability. Therefore, a seemingly weak state may be signaling about their unobservable factors when they challenge a seemingly strong stake (the powerful do not always prevail).
Commitment is a problem because actors often want to make promises that others doubt the actors will be willing to carry out later (even if the state was sincere in the promise, the game may have changed by the time the time to take the action has come). Even if actors know each others’ motivations, they have reason to doubt that they will carry out actions that are in their interest now but may not be later. Giving other actors power is a common way to make credible commitments (for example, to encourage investment, allow investors to pull their money out). Domestic institutions can also create ways for leaders to commit themselves. For example, the difficulty of ratifying a treaty at home can lead to more credible commitment. Lastly, force may be an attractive option for an actor when other parties are unable to commit themselves to protect its interest (want to invest in Africa and commit to protecting its industry, colonize and politically control the territory).
Actors bargain when many solutions are available and they do not agree on the ranking of those solutions. The reservation level represents the price at which each is indifferent between making the deal and not, which depends on outside options. In a crisis, war is the outside option for both sides, so the reservation level is the agreement that is seen as equivalent in benefit to war. Negotions can fail when there is no zone of agreement where reservation levels overlap, or when one side breaks off because it concludes no deal could be reached (even if it really could). Offers and responses are signals about one’s reservation level. Actors can differ in how they value the present versus the future (patience). Political systems can provide actors to prefer a deal now over the same deal later (election cycles). Multilateral bargaining presents other problems: the more parties in negotiation creates a less likely chance of a zone of agreement, the negations are delayed due to more positions needing to be exchanged. So reduce the number of parties needed to reech an agreement. Also, bargaining over multiple issues can create a zone of agreement. Persuasion is useful when actors are uncertain about their own reservation levels.