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Coercion Through IOs: The Security Council and the Logic of Information Transmission

  • Alexander Thompson (a1)

Abstract

Why do powerful states often channel coercive policies through international organizations (IOs)? The article explains this phenomenon by theorizing the political advantages of working through a neutral institution, defined as one with heterogeneous and representative member preferences. The argument centers on the notion of strategic information transmission. IO involvement sends information about the coercer's intentions and the consequences of the coercive policy to foreign leaders and their publics, information that determines the level of international support offered to the coercing state. The logic helps explain why the United Nations Security Council plays a unique role in approving and disapproving the use of force. A case study of the 1990–91 Gulf War shows how these information transmission mechanisms work in practice and that the rationalist information argument provides more traction than a legitimacy-based alternative explanation.For valuable comments on earlier drafts, I would like to thank Charles Glaser, Peter Gourevitch, Lloyd Gruber, Darren Hawkins, Keith Krehbiel, David Lake, Charles Lipson, Daniel Nielson, Kenneth Schultz, Duncan Snidal, Michael Tierney, Daniel Verdier, Erik Voeten, and Joel Westra, as well as participants in the PIPES workshop at the University of Chicago and the conference on Delegation to International Organizations at the University of California, San Diego. I also thank Lisa Martin and two anonymous reviewers for constructive suggestions. I am grateful to Matthew Scherbarth for research assistance and to the Mershon Center at Ohio State University for financial assistance.

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