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Reputations and Signaling in Coercive Bargaining

Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


When do states defend their reputations? States sometimes pay high costs to protect their reputations, but other times willingly tarnish them. What accounts for the difference? This article investigates reputation building in the context of coercive diplomacy. In coercive bargaining, giving in to a challenge can harm one’s reputation. I argue, however, that states value their reputations less—and therefore are more willing to capitulate to coercive threats—when they do not expect future challenges. Using a data set of more than 200 coercive threats, empirical tests find support for this logic. Coercers that are constrained in their ability to initiate future challenges exhibit higher rates of coercive success in the status quo. The results shed light on the causes of reputation-building behavior and add an important element to our understanding of the dynamics of coercive diplomacy.