Getting Your Message Across
Policymakers are faced with filtering, understanding, and assessing an overwhelming, and often conflicting, amount of information on a constant basis. States signal resolve over issues, such as during a crisis, or to demonstrate intentions by sending reassurance signals of benign or defensive intentions. But states also have incentives to keep some information private or manipulate the information it sends. Whether or not policymakers believe an adversary’s signals influences, and often determines, the prospect of cooperation or competition. This dissertation examines how policymakers believe the reassurance signals of an adversary. Costly signaling theory argues states can cut through these issues by attaching costs to their signals. Only a sincere state would attach and accept these costs, thus demonstrating the sender is sincere and credible. I argue costly signaling theory is unable to explain variation in why policymakers believe signals in certain situations and not others, despite having costs attached. In this dissertation, I argue policymakers look to see whether sender policymakers risk their own political position to send signals. To risk political vulnerability, sender policymakers must demonstrate they have reduced their control over domestic political processes to send reassurance signals. This is done by sending signals which go against the interests of important domestic constituencies, such as the military or members of the elite. In doing so, sender policymakers demonstrate they are committed to the success of the signal, and will not deflect the costs imposed by signaling failure onto the population or state itself. When sender policymakers demonstrate political vulnerability, target policymakers will believe the signal is genuine. If sender policymakers do not demonstrate political vulnerability, target policymakers will not believe the signal is genuine. I test the domestic political vulnerability thesis by examining how U.S. policymakers believed Soviet reassurance signals during the Cold War. Studying cases of reassurance signaling also allows me to examine for the ability, or inability, of U.S. policymakers to update assessments of Soviet intentions. I select nine cases of Soviet reassurance signaling across three signaling strategies identified by costly signaling theory: strategic arms control (tying hands); conventional troop reductions (sinking costs); and de-escalation signaling. The cases were chosen to test the explanatory power of my theory against the alternative explanations. I use extensive archival research and process tracing to study these cases and find support for the theory of domestic political vulnerability.