The Politics of Deception: Forging Peace Treaties in the Face of Domestic Opposition

Article excerpt

DEMOCRATIC POLITIES DEEIBERATELY construct institutions and procedures to hold their governments accountable. In the foreign policy realm, this usually involves some degree of legislative participation in the policy process, a ratification procedure for international treaties, and a forum for public review of policies, at a minimum during election campaigns. While some democracies devise institutions and procedures to allow their national security executives some degree of autonomy to make decisions in the national interest even when there is large-scale domestic opposition, others keep their executives within tight institutional constraints. Due to the secret nature of many international negotiations, however, even less autonomous democratic governments may be able to escape their domestic constraints by deceiving the legislature and the public about their behaviour in secret talks. In this article, I investigate their ability to do so, and the consequent challenge this presents to democratic accountability.

To this end, I examine the policy independence of Great Britain, France, and the United States when they negotiated the Versailles treaty of 1919, and Israeli efforts to negotiate a political settlement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1993. These cases present excellent opportunities to study the independenceenhancing potential of deception since, as I will demonstrate, all four governments possessed relatively low levels of foreign policy autonomy. Hence, any differences in their observed policy independence cannot be attributed to differences in executive strength. Furthermore, during these negotiations the preferences of national leaders diverged sharply from public and legislative opinion; therefore, each of these leaders faced comparable countervailing domestic pressures. By observing the actual policy independence of David Lloyd George, Georges Clemenceau, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, and Yitzhak Rabin-the national leaders and principal negotiators-assessed in terms of their ability to pursue unpopular policies and accept treaty provisions that conflicted with domestic demands, as well as the frequency with which they resorted to deceptive tactics to escape domestic pressures, we can gauge the ability of skilful national agents to magnify the scope of structural autonomy with which they are endowed. Finally, these cases allow me to explore whether executives resort to deception in different negotiating conditions and different eras. The 1919 settlement was negotiated in a multilateral context amongst sovereign democratic states; Israel negotiated the 1993 agreement bilaterally with a nonstate actor.

This article is divided into five parts. Part I considers the dynamics of international negotiations and the opportunities they present for less autonomous democratic executives. Part II overviews the domestic decision-making environments of the four democracies in question in order to demonstrate that they all had relatively constrained executives. Parts III and IV present the case studies. My conclusions, which consider the contemporary incentives for deception and the paradox of accountability it creates, are presented in Part V.


Putnam has likened international negotiation to a complex two-level game.1 National leaders must play to two audiences while they strive to achieve their own preferences: the international (level I) and the domestic (level II). The demands of these audiences often conflict, creating difficulties for leaders under the condition of strategic interdependence. Concessions to public and legislative opinion may irritate other states, and international concessions can ignite domestic opposition. In addition, the demands of both groups might be inimical to the government's own objectives. In order to reach an international agreement, the substance of the accord must be at least minimally acceptable to a state's bargaining partners. …


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