Fighting for Credibility: US Reputation and International Politics

Fighting for Credibility: US Reputation and International Politics

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By Frank P. Harvey and John Mitton
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division © 2017
World Rights
312 Pages
ISBN 9781487520540
Published Dec 2016
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ISBN 9781487500757
Published Dec 2016
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ebook (EPUB format)
ISBN 9781487511760
Published Jan 2017
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When Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in Syria, he clearly crossed President Barack Obama’s "red line." At the time, many argued that the president had to bomb in order to protect America's reputation for toughness, and therefore its credibility, abroad; others countered that concerns regarding reputation were overblown, and that reputations are irrelevant for coercive diplomacy.

Whether international reputations matter is the question at the heart of Fighting for Credibility. For skeptics, past actions and reputations have no bearing on an adversary’s assessment of credibility; power and interests alone determine whether a threat is believed. Using a nuanced and sophisticated theory of rational deterrence, Frank P. Harvey and John Mitton argue the opposite: ignoring reputations sidesteps important factors about how adversaries perceive threats. Focusing on cases of asymmetric US encounters with smaller powers since the end of the Cold War including Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Syria, Harvey and Mitton reveal that reputations matter for credibility in international politics. This dynamic and deeply documented study successfully brings reputation back to the table of foreign diplomacy.

Frank P. Harvey is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Dalhousie University where he also holds the Eric Dennis Chair of Government and Politics.

John Mitton is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Dalhousie University and a Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the University of Southern California.


Chapter 1: Reputations Research and Premature Closure of Inquiry

Chapter 2: Reputations Matter: Rational Deterrence Theory and Credibility Reconsidered

Chapter 3: US Reputation Building in Deterrence Encounters, 1991–2003

Chapter 4: The Strategic Logic of US Coercion: Explaining Failures and Successes in Syria, 2011- 2013

Chapter 5: RDT, Domestic Politics, and Audience Costs

Chapter 6: Reputations, Credibility, and Transferability – Reconsidering Syria’s Relevance to Iran, North Korea, and Beyond

Chapter 7: Responding to Critics: Alternative Explanations and Competing Policy Recommendations

Chapter 8: Expanding Theory-Policy Gaps in International Relations

Appendix 1

Glossary of Terms

"Fighting for Credibility is a useful corrective for the all-too-convenient argument that reputations do not matter. Harvey and Mitton present a highly nuanced, well researched, and deeply documented counter-argument that clearly demonstrates that credibility does matter. They make a compelling case that there are indeed conditions under which a state’s reputation may be worth fighting for."

Frank Zagare, UB Distinguished Professor, State University of New York, Buffalo

 "Fighting for Credibility is an excellent piece of scholarly research. Frank P. Harvey and John Mitton’s arguments are both in-depth and devastating. Their study provides a useful and timely policy corrective in the debate over coercive diplomacy."

James Fergusson, Director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, University of Manitoba

‘This detailed, technical study will be of special interest chiefly to the scholars of international relations and foreign policy.’

M. Amstutz, Choice Magazine vol 54:10:2017