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Tacit Bargaining and Arms Control


Astate bargains tacitly with another state when it attempts to manipulate the latter's policy choices through its behavior rather than by relying on formal or informal diplomatic exchanges. The process is tacit because actions rather than rhetoric constitute the critical medium of communication; it is bargaining and not coercion because the actions are aimed at influencing an outcome that can only be achieved through some measure of joint, voluntary behavior. Obviously, states rarely rely on either purely tacit or purely formal negotiation. However, the theory of tacit bargaining does not become totally inapplicable when there is verbal or written communication between the principals. It simply becomes increasingly relevant as states rely more on actions than on conventional negotiation. Examples of tacit bargaining are plentiful in international relations: a retaliatory tariff is announced in response to trade barriers; a state at war refrains from using chemical weapons or from bombing nonmilitary targets in the hope that its opponent will behave similarly; an austerity program is implemented by a financially troubled government in order to convince foreign banks that they should continue to extend credit.

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Adelman , “Arms Control with and without Agreements,” Foreign Affairs 63 (Winter 1984/85), 240–62

Robert Axelrod , “The Emergence of Cooperation Among Egoists,” American Political Science Review 75 (June 1981), 306–18

Robert Axelrod and William D. Hamilton , “The Evolution of Cooperation,” Science, No. 211 (March 1981), 1390–96

George W. Downs et al., “Arms Races and Cooperation,” World Politics 38 (October 1985), 118–46, at 139–42

Michael Ross and Fiore Sicoly , “Egocentric Biases in Availability and Attribution,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (March 1979), 322–36

Robert Jervis , “Cooperation under the Security Dilemma,” World Politics 30 (January 1978), 167214.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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