Environment and Statecraft: The Strategy of Environmental Treaty-Making

By Scott Barrett | Go to book overview

9 Tipping Treaties

Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point (2000: 259)


9.1 INTRODUCTION

Treaties that sustain real cooperation must enforce participation. And, yet, most treaties do not incorporate enforcement mechanisms. They may include a minimum participation clause, but with the exception of bilateral and minilateral treaties, this minimum is usually exceeded; in equilibrium, it does not bite. This hints that treaties like this are trying to do something different. Their aim may be to coordinate state behavior.

As shown in Chapter 4 , some games require only coordination. These are easy problems to remedy. My focus here is different. I shall show how situations that demand cooperation can be transformed into a game requiring only coordination. This strategic manipulation has an obvious advantage in that coordination games do not require enforcement measures. However, not all games can be transformed in this way. And there may be a cost to transforming a prisoners' dilemma (PD)-like game. The outcome that can be sustained by coordination may be welfare-inferior to the outcome that would be sustained were it not necessary for treaties to be self-enforcing. That is, the transformed coordination game may only be able to sustain a second-best outcome.

In PD games, players have dominant strategies. In the transformed games studied in Chapter 7 , states do not have dominant strategies; whether a country signs a treaty or not depends on the number of others that sign. The transformed games studied here also do not have dominant strategies. The difference is that, in this chapter, the equilibria are symmetric. If there is a treaty, then all countries will sign it. Threshold effects are often important in these kinds of situations, and the minimum participation clause may serve a different purpose as compared with the games studied in Chapter 7 . In coordination games, the minimum participation clause coordinates state behavior. It identifies the tipping point.


9.2 CONFORMING PREFERENCES

When you see countries behave in the same way, it may be tempting to conclude that they are doing so because they have a preference to conform. If this were true, however—if states cared only about conforming—then it would not matter what states did; the aggregate payoff would be maximized so long as all countries did the

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