My book project examines why some threats are believed credible by states during international crises, while others are not. More specifically, I seek to provide a better understanding of how target states interpret coercive signals intended to establish threat credibility during these periods.
I argue that variation in leadership beliefs within a target state is key to understanding how threatening signals are interpreted during crises. Research within political science has shown that decision makers’ differing belief systems and assumptions about the nature of international politics can hold important implications for political outcomes. I build on this research to argue that a target state’s prior interactions with an adversary determine its leader’s beliefs and expectations regarding the extent of that adversary’s interests and satisfaction with the status quo. These beliefs are crucial in determining how signals are received and interpreted in future crises with important implications for assessments of threat credibility.
I develop and test my theory through the comparative historical analysis of four carefully selected interstate crises – the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), the Suez Crisis (1956), the Falklands War (1982), and the Iraq War (2003) – drawing on newly available archival documents.
The project makes an important contribution to literature on coercive diplomacy and foreign policy decision making. Previous scholarship has cast doubt on behavioral theories of credibility by showing that a state’s previous history of upholding commitments to use force do not affect its credibility in future crises. In contrast, this project suggests that a state’s past behavior does have an important part to play in future assessments of its threat credibility, but through different pathways than originally conceived.