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Outside Options and the Logic of Security Council Action

  • Erik Voeten (a1)

I examine if and how a superpower can use its asymmetric power to achieve favorable outcomes in multilateral bargaining between states that have conflicting interests and veto power. Using a game-theoretic framework, I show that the ability to act outside, either unilaterally or with an ally, helps the superpower to reach agreements that would be vetoed in the absence of the outside option. These agreements, however, are usually not at the superpower’s ideal point. Under some conditions, uncertainty about the credibility of the outside option can lead to unilateral action that all actors prefer to avoid. In other circumstances, this uncertainty results in multilateral actions that the superpower (and the ally) would not initiate without multilateral authorization. The model provides useful insights that help explain patterns of decision-making in the United Nations Security Council in the 1990s, including the failed attempt to reach agreement over the Kosovo intervention.

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The author is greatly indebted to Thomas Romer and Howard Rosenthal, who provided invaluable comments on several versions of this research. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 31–September 3, 2000, Washington, DC. I thank the participants in this seminar, Michael Doyle, Aaron Friedberg, Joanne Gowa, David Malone, Kevin Narizny, Anne Sartori, Kenneth Schultz, David Yang, and three anonymous referees for helpful suggestions, comments, and discussions. I gratefully acknowledge financial support from the Research Program in International Security at Princeton University. All errors are my sole responsibility. Proofs for propositions in this article are available from the author or at the web site∼evoeten.
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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