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Global Communications and National Power: Life on the Pareto Frontier


Regime analysis has focused on issues of market failure, the resolution of which depends upon knowledge and institution building. Global communications regimes, however, have been concerned either with issues of pure coordination or with coordination problems with distributional consequences. Outcomes have been decided by the underlying distribution of national power. In those areas where power was asymmetrically distributed and there was no agreement on basic principles and norms—radio broadcasting and remote sensing—no regime was formed. In those areas where distributional issues could not be unilaterally resolved—allocation of the radio spectrum and telecommunications—regimes were created, although both principles and rules changed with alterations in national power capabilities.

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1 Stein, “Coordination and Collaboration: Regimes in an Anarchic World,” in Krasner S. D., ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983).Snidal Duncan refers to this same distinction as “Coordination versus Prisoners' Dilemma: Implications for International Cooperation and Regimes,” American Political Science Review 79 (December 1985), 923–42.

2 The essence of conventional realist thinking as exemplified in the work of Kenneth Waltz is that the quest for power, which is inherently a relative concept, inevitably places states in a zero-sum situation. See Waltz, Theory of International Relations (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979), as well as Grieco Joseph, “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988), 485507.

3 Keohane Robert O., After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 51.

4 I am indebted to Joanne Gowa and Susan Woodward for suggesting what I hope is a gender neutral example. As Snidal (fn. I), 931, notes: “Sometimes coordination is presented simply as the problem of two or more actors matching policies where they are indifferent about where they match. … Here there is no disjuncture between individual and collective rationality and no problem of collective action. It requires not more than communication and common sense to achieve an outcome that is both individually and collectively optimal.”

5 Similar kinds of reasoning about commitment have been used in the recent literature on strategic trade theory. One element of this analysis is that state intervention to promote a particular industry is desirable because it demonstrates a level of national commitment that could not be provided by the action of private firms. See, for instance, Brander James A., “Rationales for Strategic Trade and Industrial Policy,” in Krugman Paul R., ed., Strategic Trade Policy and the New International Economics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), 30.

6 Snidal (fn. 1), 938, points out that the threat of exclusion can itself be an effective bar gaining tool. By threatening to exclude, a more powerful state might secure the compliance of a weaker state.

7 Underlying power capabilities or size may determine the payoff matrix in the first place. See Conybeare John A. C., Trade Wars: The Theory and Practice of International Commercial Rivalry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 2.

8 Albert Hirschman has argued that the credibility of such a threat would be determined by the relative opportunity costs of change; see Hirschman, National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade, rev. ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980). Tactical linkage is discussed in Haas Ernst B., “Why Collaborate? Issue-Linkage and International Regimes,” World Politics 32 (April 1980), 357405.

9 The terms coordination and collaboration are taken from Stein (fn. i).

10 Robert Axelrod and Robert O. Keohane point to Pareto suboptimality in general as the defining problem for the cooperation literature, arguing that “what is important for our purposes is not to focus exclusively on Prisoner's Dilemma per se, but to emphasize the fundamental problem that it (along with Stag Hunt and Chicken) illustrates. In these games, myopic pursuit of self-interest can be disastrous. Yet both sides can potentially benefit from cooperation–if they can only achieve it”; Axelrod and Keohane, “Achieving Cooperation under Anarchy: Strategies and Institutions,” World Politics 38 (October 1985), 226–54, at 231.

11 Charles Lipson, for instance, argues that “because the Prisoner's Dilemma highlights both the potential gains from cooperation and the temptations that prevent it, it has been taken as an elegant expression of the most profound political dilemmas, including that of the social contract. Indeed, Jon Elster once defined politics as ‘the study of ways of transcending the Prisoner's Dilemma’ ”; Lipson, “International Cooperation in Economic and Security Affairs,” World Politics 37 (October 1984), 123, at 3.

12 For an exceptionally intelligent and nuanced discussion of the impact of these factors on the prospects for cooperation in Prisoner's Dilemma and other games, see Oye Kenneth A., “Explaining Cooperation under Anarchy: Hypotheses and Strategies,” World Politics 38 (October 1985), 124.

13 The most important exposition of the functions of institutions can be found in Keohane (fn. 3), chap. 6.

14 The central importance that neoliberal institutionalism accords to the problem of cheating is elegantly elaborated in Grieco Joseph M., Cooperation among Nations: Europe, America, and Non-Tariff Barriers to Trade (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990), esp. chaps. 1, 2.

15 Grieco (fn. 14), 38, points out that one of Axelrod's premises is that there is no way to eliminate a player or to avoid interactions.

16 Axelrod and Keohane (fn. 10), 253, summarize: “We have seen that governments have often tried to transform the structure within which they operate so as to make it possible for the countries involved to work together more productively.”

18 Here and later in the paper I draw heavily on the superlative analysis of Peter Cowhey; see Cowhey, “The International Telecommunications Regime: The Political Roots of International Regimes for High Technology,” International Organization 44 (Spring 1990), 169–99.

19 This argument has been forcefully made by Stein (fn. I), 130. Stein's analysis offers a much more differentiated perspective on the problem of cooperation than does most of the other regime literature because of the distinction between dilemmas of common aversions and dilemmas of common interests. Although the latter have gotten most of the attention, in part because of the fixation on Prisoner's Dilemma, the former may, in fact, be the more common area of concern.

20 For instance, Article 44 of the Atlantic City Telecommunications Convention, which was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 1950, condemns the jamming of radio broadcasts, but it also cautions that states should “refrain from radio broadcasts that would mean unfair attacks or slanders against other peoples anywhere”; Gross Leo, “Some International Law Aspects of the Freedom of Information and the Right to Communicate,” in Nordenstreng Kaarle and Schiller Herbert I., eds., National Sovereignty and International Communication (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1979), 208–9. See also Murty B. S., Propaganda and World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of the Ideological Instrument of Coercion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 34, 109–10; Marks David, “Broadcasting across the Wall: The Free Flow of Information between East and West Germany,” Journal of Communication 33 (Winter 1983), 4655, at 47; and Martin John L., International Propaganda: Its Legal and Diplomatic Control (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958), 78—79.

21 Martin (fn. 20), 71–75, 78–81.

22 Bumpus Bernard and Skelt Barbara, Seventy Years of International Broadcasting, Communication and Society, no. 14 (Paris: UNESCO, c. 1985), 711, 20–31, 31–46, and chaps. 7–8.

23 Ibid., 100–102; Murty (fn. 20), 56; Martin (fn. 20), 85–86.

24 Bumpus and Skelt (fn. 22), 102; Murty (fn. 20), 55.

25 Eyal Jonathan, “Recent Developments in the Jamming of Western Radio Stations Broadcasting to the USSR and Eastern Europe,” Radio Liberty Research RL 419/86, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty (1986), 2.

26 Boyd Douglas, “Pirate Radio in Britain: A Programming Alternative,” Journal of Communication 36 (Spring 1986), 8394, at 86–92.

27 Quester George, The International Politics of Television (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1990), 30, 105, 113–14, 126–30. One poll of East German refugees (not exactly a random sample of the East German population) taken in 1985 indicated that 82 percent watched West German television on a regular basis. See Buhl Dieter, “Window to the West: How Television from the Federal Republic Influenced Events in East Germany,” Discussion Paper D-5 (Cambridge: Joan Shorenstein Barone Center, Kennedy School, Harvard University, 1990), 3. Buhl argues that West German television undermined the legitimacy of the communist regime.

28 Gorove Stephen, “International Direct Television Broadcasting by Satellite: ‘Prior Consent’ Revisited,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 24 (1985), 8, 58. See also Blatherwick David E. S., The International Politics of Telecommunications, Research Series (Berkeley: Institute for International Studies, 1987), 42, 47.

29 Europe, April 1989, p. 29; Financial Times, June 15, 1989; New YorK Times, October 4, 1989, p. C17.

30 Quester (fn. 27), 126.

31 Assuming no agreement on principles, the future of state control will depend on power derived from technological choices. It would, for instance, be easier to regulate transmissions sent through fiber-optic cables than those sent via satellites. Ibid., 138–39.

32 Soroos Marvin, Beyond Sovereignty: The Challenge of Global Policy (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986), 340.

33 Blatherwick (fn. 28), 72–76.

34 Ibid., 62–64.

35 Ibid., 74–77.

36 Ibid., 57, 77.

37 Kavanaugh Andrea, “Star WARCs and the New System: An Analysis of U.S. International Satellite Policy Formation,” Telecommunications Policy (June 1986), 93106, at 105.

38 Codding George A. Jr, and Rutkowski Anthony M., The International Telecommunication Union in a Changing World (Dedham, Mass.: Artech House, 1982), 13, 25–26.

39 Krasner Stephen D., Structural Conflict: The Third World against Global Liberalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 229.

40 Cowhey (fn. 18), 177–80. See also Drake William J., “Asymmetric Reregulation and the Transformation of the International Telecommunications Regime” (Unpublished paper, Department of Communications, University of California, San Diego, August, 1989), 34, 11–15. A revised version will appear in Noam Eli and Pogerel Gerard, eds., Asymmetric Deregulation: The Dynamics of Telecommunications Policies in Europe and the United States (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, forthcoming).

41 Codding and Rutkowski (fn. 38), 12–13. See also Feldman Mildred, The Role of the United States in the International Telecommunication Union and Pre-ITU Conferences (Baton Rouge, La.: Mildred L. Bos Feldman, 1975), 2329, 48; and Luther Sara Fletcher, The United States and the Direct Broadcast Satellite: The Politics of International Broadcasting in Space (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 19.

42 Cowhey (fn. 18), 169.

43 Ibid., 188; Drake (fn. 40), 40–42, 46–48.

44 For instance, beginning in the 1960s IBM developed its own communications system based on satellites and lines leased from PTTs. This system now extends to 145 countries; Business Week, special issue no. 3033–44, January-March 1988, p. 141.

45 Aronson Jonathan David and Cowhey Peter F., When Countries Talk International Trade in Telecommunications Services (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1988), 218–23.

46 Cowhey (fn. 18), 191—95.

47 Ibid., 196; Drake (fn. 40), 49, 66.

48 Bauer Hans, “Telecommunications and the United European Market,” Telecommunications 25 (January 1990), 3335.

49 Aronson and Cowhey (fn. 45), 162, 178–80.

50 Cowhey (fn. 18), 181.

51 Pelton Joseph N., Global Communications Satellite Policy: Intelsat, Politics and Function-alism (Mt. Airy, Md.: Lomond Books, 1974), 5459.

52 Colino Richard R., “Global Politics and INTELSAT: The Conduct of Foreign Relations in an Electronically Wired World,” Telecommunications Policy 10 (September 1986), 199.

53 Pelton (fn. 51), 82.

54 Ibid., 123; Kavanaugh (fn. 37), 97.

55 Colino (fn. 52), 208.

56 Aronson and Cowhey (fn. 45), 121–32.

57 Keohane, “Multilateralism: An Agenda for Research,” International Journal (Autumn 1990), 746. See also Keohane (fn. 3), 21.

58 Moe, “Political Institutions: The Neglected Side of the Story” (Paper prepared for the Yale Law School Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization Conference on the Organization of Political Institutions, April 27–28, 1990), 12.

59 For an excellent discussion of various payoff matrices, see Oye (fn. 12), 12–18.

60 This point is forcefully made in Grieco (fn. 2).

61 Perrow, Complex Organizations: A Critical Essay, 3d ed. (New York: Random House, 1986), 132. Perrow criticizes economic analyses, such as the principal agent literature, for ignoring the distribution of power (pp. 230, 257–58).

62 Contrast (1) the discussion in Axelrod and Keohane (fn. 10), 249, about the way in which background conditions, such as issue linkage, can be altered to facilitate cooperation with (2) the analysis in this paper, in which power is used to alter background conditions (players, issue linkage, payoff matrix) to change the distribution of benefits.

63 This argument is elaborated in Krasner (fn. 39).

64 Such control is not foreordained even for telephone communications. While international links for both satellite and cable are now connected to national systems through a limited number of easily regulated gateways, Motorola has announced plans to develop a portable telephone system that could send and receive calls point to point anywhere on earth by bouncing signals off seventy-seven satellites; New York Times, June 26, 1990, p. 1.

65 Robert Jervis has also argued that one of the attractions of Prisoner's Dilemma is that it lends itself to interesting manipulations; see Jervis, “Realism, Game Theory, and Cooperation,” World Politics 40 (April 1988), 317–49, at 323.

66 See ibid., 334, for a similar formulation. Grieco (fn. 14) places particular emphasis on the desire of states to preserve their freedom of action.

67 I am indebted to Terry Moe for pointing out this line of argument.

68 Coase Ronald, “The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics 3 (1960), 144. John Conybeare has applied Coase's logic to problems of international organization. See Conybeare, “International Organization and the Theory of Property Rights,” International Organization 34 (Summer 1980), 307–34, esp. 322–23, where the author recognizes, although does not elaborate, the income effects of the initial distribution of property rights.

69 For instance, Joseph Grieco's recent study of the nontariff barrier codes negotiated during the Tokyo Round suggests that conventional concerns about relative power are a more persuasive explanation of outcomes than neoliberal considerations involving cheating and information. Grieco argues that both absolute and relative gains must be included in the utility function of states; see Grieco (fn. 14), 40–49.

70 Snidal (fn. 1), 935, demonstrates that a more powerful state, understood as the actor which is less in need of coordination, will, in a bilateral bargaining situation, secure an out come closer to its most desired point than its weaker antagonist.

71 Ruggie, “Continuity and Transformation in the World Polity: Toward a Neorealist Synthesis,” World Politics 35 (January 1983), 261–85.

* I would like to thank Peter Cowhey, John Ferejohn, Robert Jervis, Robert Keohane, Terry Moe, and especially William Drake, who is also especially absolved of any responsibility for the conclusions of this paper.

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