I woke up this morning to read (a few hours behind most of you…one of the few downsides to living in the Pacific Northwest is living behind the news cycle!) about the finalizing of a nuclear deal between the E3/EU+3 and Iran. I’ll leave it to others to analyze whether the deal is a good one and whether it will indeed limit the ability of Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. Charles Krauthammer hates it. Joe Cirincione loves it. Jeffery Goldberg isn’t quite sure what he thinks of it. My own thinking tends towards agreeing that the agreement isn’t spectacular, but that it might be the least worst option of military strikes (unlikely to have a meaningful, lasting impact and almost certain to increase Iran’s resolve to develop an extant weapon) and indefinite sanctions (a degrading commodity that have limited impact).
Still, rather than focus on the efficacy of the agreement and its details, I’d like to talk about a different aspect: what we can learn about Iran’s intentions to comply with the agreement or build a nuclear weapon. My first published work, “Institutional Signaling and the Origins of the Cold War,” addressed the ability of states to use international agreements and organizations to force other states to reveal privately held information about their preferences and intentions (as my institution has a subscription to Taylor and Francis, I’m not sure if the article is behind a paywall. If it is, you can also find it here or e-mail me and I’ll send it to you). To make a long article short, I argue that:
the process of negotiating and creating international institutions plays a critical role in enabling states to send and evoke credible statements of preference. Institutions, by virtue of their ability to impose costs on states as a result of compliance with the rules and obligations,provide a means of generating signals that will be accepted as credible by the policymakers of a given state. Those signals will be interpreted as revealing vital information about the true nature and interests of other states.