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Constraining Coercion? Legitimacy and Its Role in U.S. Trade Policy, 1975–2000

  • Krzysztof J. Pelc (a1)

Abstract

The role of legitimacy in international relations is a topic of much debate, yet there is little understanding of the mechanism behind it. Here I address this discrepancy by asking: are state threats perceived as (il)legitimate more or less likely to be successful? By operationalizing illegitimacy as unilateral action in the presence of a multilateral option, I consider the variation in the success of U.S. trade measures from 1975 to 2000. As I show, the (il)legitimacy of threats modifies the nature of the signal sent by concessions to those threats, and this effect can be measured and predicted. I find that, controlling for material pressure, perceived illegitimacy of U.S. trade threats decreases the likelihood of a target conceding by over 34 percent. Moreover, it pays to resist: targets that resist illegitimate unilateral measures from the United States are 25 percent less likely to encounter similar unilateral measures over the following five years.

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Constraining Coercion? Legitimacy and Its Role in U.S. Trade Policy, 1975–2000

  • Krzysztof J. Pelc (a1)

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