The Breakdown of International Negotiations: Social Conflicts, Audience Costs, and Reputation in Two-Level Games

In: International Negotiation

This article examines whether the two-level game can theoretically explain negotiation breakdowns without referring to uncertainty alone. For this purpose, social conflicts are integrated in the two-level game. In this light, the classical hypothesis that smaller win-sets increase the risk of a negotiation breakdown can no longer be maintained. Instead, conflict intensity – and thereby the risk of breakdown – correlates with the intersection of the win-sets in the form of an inverted U-curve. It follows that negotiations are most likely to break down when the intersection of the win-sets is perceived as medium-sized, because the bargaining space and thereby the potential of conflict intensity is largest/highest. Furthermore, the insertion of social conflicts into the equation runs counter to the hypothesis that issue linkages facilitate international cooperation. On the contrary, issue linkages increase the risk that goal conflicts, in particular, intensify each other by spreading from one issue to another.

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  • 5

    Downie (2012) argues that the likelihood of an agreement does not only depend on the size of the win-sets, but also the content or issue area that is negotiated about, such as security, the economy or the environment. Downie might be right that the issue area or content is also important, which no scholar of the two-level game would deny, but he is confusing cause and effect. The issue area or content defines from the very beginning which actors are participating in the negotiations, their preferences (ideal points) and thereby the programmatic distance between the ideal points. This, in turn, determines the size of the win-sets and whether they overlap. Downie does not present an argument that questions Putnam’s hypothesis that smaller win-sets are less likely to overlap and therefore cooperation is less likely (from a probabilistic perspective).

  • 7

    For critiques see Clare (2007) and Snyder & Borghard (2011). Chaudoin (2014) shows that if the audience has strong preferences over policy choices themselves, they care less about the consistency of the leadership’s words and deeds but more about the final policy.

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