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The Spotlight's Harsh Glare: Rethinking Publicity and International Order

  • Allison Carnegie and Austin Carson

How does publicizing states' illicit activities affect the stability of international order? What does this relationship tell us about how governments react to violations of international rules? In contrast to the conventional wisdom that transparent monitoring strengthens the normative legal order, we argue that these activities often undermine it. We develop two mechanisms through which this occurs: by raising the known rate of noncompliance, and by sharpening the threat that deviance poses to other states. We argue that when enforcers understand the dangers of publicizing transgressions, they do so selectively. Focusing on the nuclear nonproliferation domain, we demonstrate that these concerns shaped American decisions to reveal or obfuscate other states' efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. We formalize this argument and then empirically test the model's predictions using in-depth case study analyses. We find that the US failed to disclose infractions when this publicity would have undermined the rules through the two mechanisms we identify. However, while concealing violations can prevent proliferation in response to specific nuclear programs, it can also create potential dangers to a regime's overall health and stability. In addition to reassessing a widely shared assumption about the value of transparent monitoring, this article's broad theoretical framework can shed light on enforcement and compliance dynamics in a variety of international settings.

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