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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