Skip to main content

The Might of the Pen: A Reputational Theory of Communication in International Disputes

  • Anne E. Sartori

I present a theory of effective diplomacy based on honesty and reputations. I model diplomacy as a form of “cheap talk” and international interactions as an infinitely repeated game in which similar states find themselves in disparate situations over time. The theory explains the success and failure of diplomacy. Reputations for honesty make honest communication possible. A state caught bluffing is less able to communicate and less likely to attain its goals in the near future. These findings imply that domestic audience costs are unnecessary for international signaling and that military strength is not the only way to build credibility.

Hide All
Abreu, Dilip, Pearce, David, and Stacchetti, Ennio. 1986. Optimal Cartel Equilibria with Imperfect Monitoring. Journal of Economic Theory 39 (1):251–69.
Abreu, Dilip, Pearce, David, and Stacchetti, Ennio. 1990. Toward a Theory of Discounted Repeated Games with Imperfect Monitoring. Econometrica 58 (5): 1041–63.
Acheson, Dean. 1969. Present at the Creation. New York: W.W. North and Company.
Albertini, Luigi. 1952. Origins of the War of 1914. Volume I. London: Oxford University Press.
Alt, James E., Calvert, Randall L., and Humes, Brian D.. 1988. Reputation and Hegemonic Stability: A Game-Theoretic Analysis. American Political Science Review 82 (2):445–66.
Austen-Smith, David. 1990. Information Transmission in Debate. American Journal of Political Science 34 (1):124–52.
Austen-Smith, David. 1992. Strategic Models of Talk in Political Decision Making. International Political Science Review 13 (1):4558.
Axelrod, Robert. 1984. The Evolution of Cooperation. New York: Basic Books.
Axelrod, Robert, and Zimmerman, William. 1981. The Soviet Press on Soviet Foreign Policy: A Usually Reliable Source. British Journal of Political Science 11 (April): 183200.
Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and Lalman, David. 1992. War and Reason. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Chen, Jian. 1994. China's Road to the Korean War. New York: Columbia University Press.
Crawford, Vincent P., and Sobel, Joel. 1982. Strategic Information Transmission. Econometrica 50 (6): 1431–51.
Donovan, Robert J. 1982. Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1949–1953. New York: Norton.
Esser, J. K. 1998. Alive and Well After 25 Years: A Review of Groupthink Research. Organizational and Behavioral and Human Decision Processes 73 (2/3): 116–41.
Farrell, Joseph, and Gibbons, Robert. 1989. Cheap Talk Can Matter in Bargaining. Journal of Economic Theory 48 (1):221–37.
Fearon, James D. 1992. Threats to Use Force: Costly Signals and Bargaining in International Crises. Ph.D. diss., University of California, Berkeley.
Fearon, James D. 1994. Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes. American Political Science Review 88 (3):577–91.
Fiske, Susan T., and Taylor, Shelley E.. 1984. Social Cognition. New York: Random House.
Freedman, Lawrence, and Karsh, Efraim. 1994. The Gulf Conflict, 1990–1991. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Gaddis, John Lewis. 1995. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gibbons, Robert. 1992. Game Theory for Applied Economists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Guisinger, Alexandra, and Smith, Alastair. Forthcoming. Honest Threats: The Interaction of Reputation and Political Institutions in International Crises. Journal of Conflict Resolution.
Harriman, W. A., and MacArthur, Douglas. 1951. Memorandum of Conversation. President Harry S. Truman's Office Files Part 2, Reel 16/26, Frame 00544. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1989. Microform.
Helmreich, Ernst Christian. 1938. The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912–1913. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Herzig, Edmund. 1995. Iran and the Former Soviet South. London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, Russian and CIS Programme.
Hopf, Ted. 1994. Peripheral Visions: Deterrence Theory and American Foreign Policy in the Third World, 1965–1990. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Huth, Paul K. 1988. Extended Deterrence and the Prevention of War. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Huth, Paul K. 1997. Reputations and Deterrence: A Theoretical and Empirical Assessment. Security Studies 7 (1):7299.
Janis, Irving Lester. 1983. Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Jervis, Robert. 1970. The Logic of Images in International Relations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1976. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1997. System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Keesing Publishing. 1946. Keesing's Contemporary Archives (2–9 March, 27 April–7 May) 6:7757, 7865. Bristol: Keesing's Publishing Limited..
Kreps, David M., and Wilson, Robert. 1982. Reputation and Imperfect Information. Journal of Economic Theory 27 (2):253–79.
Lebow, Richard Ned, and Stein, Janice Gross. 1990. Deterrence: The Elusive Dependent Variable. World Politics 42 (3):336–69.
Leng, Russell J. 1993. Interstate Crisis Behavior, 1816–1980: Realism Versus Reciprocity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lichterman, Martin. 1963. To the Yalu and Back. In American Civil-Military Decisions, edited by Stein, Harold, 569639. Birmingham: University of Alabama Press.
Martin, Lisa. 1993. Credibility, Costs, and Institutions: Cooperation on Economic Sanctions. World Politics 45 (3):406–32.
Maxwell, Neville. 1970. India's China War. London: The Trinity Press.
Mercer, Jonathan. 1996. Reputation and International Politics. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Milgrom, Paul R., North, Douglass C., and Weingast, Barry R.. 1990. The Role of Institutions in the Revival of Trade: The Law Merchant, Private Judges, and the Champagne Fairs. Economics and Politics 2 (1):123.
Morrow, James D. 1989. Capabilities, Uncertainty, and Resolve: A Limited Information Model of Crisis Bargaining. American Political Science Review 33 (4):941–72.
Nalebuff, Barry. 1991. Rational Deterrence in an Imperfect World. World Politics 43 (3):313–35.
National Security Council. 1968. Summary Notes of the 590th Meeting of the National Security Council. In Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, vol. 17: Eastern Europe, edited by Miller, James E., 272–78. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1996.
Neustadt, Richard. 1990. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. New York: The Free Press.
Powell, Robert. 1990. Nuclear Deterrence Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Putnam, Robert D. 1988. Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games. International Organization 42 (3):427–60.
Rees, David. 1964. Korea: The Limited War. London: MacMillan.
Rich, Norman. 1973. Hitler's War Aims. New York: W. W. Norton.
Ross, Lee, and Anderson, Craig A.. 1982. Shortcomings in the Attribution Process: On the Origins and Maintenance of Erroneous Social Assessments. In Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, edited by Kahneman, Daniel\, Slovic, Paul, and Tversky, Amos, 129–52. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rovere, Richard H. 1950. Letter from Washington. The New Yorker, 2 September, 5254.
Rovere, Richard H., and Schlesinger, Arthur M. Jr 1951. The General and the President. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.
Russett, Bruce. 1963. The Calculus of Deterrence. Journal of Conflict Resolution 7 (2):97109.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1960. The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1966. Arms and Influence. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Schultz, Kenneth. 1998. Domestic Opposition and Signaling in International Crises. American Political Science Review 92 (4):829–44.
Smith, Alastair. 1998. International Crises and Domestic Politics. American Political Science Review 92 (3):623–38.
Snyder, Glenn H., and Diesing, Paul. 1977. Conflict Among Nations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
't Hart, Paul. 1991. Irving L. Janis' Victims of Groupthink. Political Psychology 12 (2):247–78.
Truman, Harry S. 1956. Memoirs, vol. 2, Years of Trial and Hope. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Turner, L. C. F. 1970. Origins of the First World War. New York: W. W. Norton.
U.S. Senate. 1951. Military Situation in the Far East. Hearings Before the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations. Pts. 1–3. 82nd Cong., 1st sess., 3 May, 18.
Whiting, Allen S. 1960. China Crosses the Yalu. New York: Macmillan.
Wilson, Robert. 1985. Reputations in Games and Markets. In Game-Theoretic Models of Bargaining, edited by Roth, Alvin E., 2761. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zelman, Walter A. 1967. Chinese Intervention in the Korean War: A Bilateral Failure of Deterrence. Security Studies Monograph 11. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed