All CISAC News Commentary October 1, 2021

“The Courtroom of World Opinion”: Bringing the International Audience into Nuclear Crises

What role does the international audience play in nuclear crises? Scholars of nuclear crises and deterrence have treated nuclear crises as dyadic interactions between two sides. However, states do not only interact with each other during a nuclear crisis. They also signal to a third actor—the international audience.
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Abstract

What role does the international audience play in nuclear crises? Scholars of nuclear crises and deterrence have treated nuclear crises as dyadic interactions between two sides. However, states do not only interact with each other during a nuclear crisis. They also signal to a third actor—the international audience. There are two reasons for this. First, states care about their international social reputation and want to be perceived as responsible and legitimate actors. Second, there are material benefits to states maintaining a good social reputation with the international audience, which possesses the leverage to reward, condemn, and sanction. States thus attempt to leverage this power of the international audience to apply diplomatic pressure on their adversary during nuclear crises. They also engage in costly signaling and strategic restraint to ensure that the international audience considers their actions legitimate during the crisis. I use original qualitative evidence from the Kargil War (1999) between India and Pakistan to demonstrate this dynamic. Incorporating the international audience as a critical third actor during nuclear crises has important academic and policy implications for the study of nuclear crises and their management.

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