A Note on My Research Interests

Fall 2012

Domestic politics matters for the form and functioning of international economic and political cooperation. My primary research agenda has been to highlight the important role domestic politic and institutions play in the design of, and the behavior of states within, international treaties and organizations, as well as explaining patterns of accession and compliance across countries with these international regimes.

My work can be categorized in the usual way – a list of research questions within substantive areas of international political economy: trade and investment (which has been my primary substantive focus), international courts, international human rights treaties, and transparency, democracy and democratization. In addition, I have continued to work in the political economy of transnational terrorism. Rather than address my work by these substantive issue areas seriatim, I have taken what I hope is the more interesting tack of dealing with pervasive themes and compelling ideas that run across the usual dividing lines of issue areas and specific research agendas.

Two ideas are central to much of my research agenda. The first is flexibility in international institutional design. When domestic political concerns matter for international cooperation, treaties that require rigid adherence to a set of obligations may be unstable and unlikely to endure, and countries are less likely to accede to these institutions in the first place. Hence stable international regimes require flexibility provisions – opportunities for tolerated defection. This insight informs much of my work on international institutional design.

The second central idea is that international organizations generate information useful for domestic enforcement of international obligations. International organizations (IOs) are traditionally thought of as devices to coordinate expectations, generate focal points, clarify obligations and sometimes to adjudicate disputes between states. Compliance is usually seen as consequent to reciprocity, or threats of mutual punishment. My contribution has been to identify the information generating role of IOs, and to establish this role as crucial in permitting more effective enforcement of obligations via domestic, rather than international mechanisms.

These two ideas have driven the emergence of a body of work in International Political Economy (IPE), investigating the patterns and variations in the design of, and the patterns of signing and accession to, international organizations across a variety of issue areas, such as international trade, investment, courts and human rights. Information flows have informed my work on transparency and regime type. In what follows I highlight the major contributions, paying closer attention to the research agenda that has emerged since 2005.

International Institutional Design: Flexibility, Escape and Courts

The core paper that identified the frequent use of flexibility-enhancing provisions as devices to facilitate cooperation in environments of stochastic domestic political pressure was published in 2005, “Stability and Rigidity: Politics and the Design of the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Procedure,” a single-authored piece in American Political Science Review(Rosendorff 2005). An earlier paper, (Rosendorff and Milner 2001) foreshadowed some of the central findings. Both pieces have been widely cited and reprinted in a variety of collections, and are commonly on graduate IPE reading lists. These papers focussed on the World Trade Organization(WTO) – where I examined the dispute settlement mechanism that had been strengthened during the Uruguay Round of negotiations, and the anti-dumping and safeguard provisions of the WTO agreement. These provisions permitted the signatory states to adopt temporary measures to protect crucial sectors during periods of unexpected but intense political pressure, for that protection to be tolerated by the other member-states, and after period, to permit the protecting state to rescind their measures and return to the community of cooperating states. These papers show that treaties that permit such tolerated defection trade away the benefits of stronger per period cooperation in return for the benefits of regime stability and survival – a reduction of the risk that the system will break down.

This work provides a basis for understanding observed defections from obligations, which are somewhat widespread, and simultaneously the relative rarity of international sanctions and/or reciprocal punishments for these violations. Following this work, a broader literature on flexibility-enhancing devices and their consequences for institutional design, stability, compliance and institutional effectiveness has emerged across a variety of issue areas.1

The option to exercise an escape clause, or otherwise rescind a previous concession and thereby protect a domestic industry, leaves a state open to the possibility of defending itself against a claim in international courts. There is a growing literature extolling the virtues of this move towards “legalization” of interstate disputes (Goldstein et al. 2000) (although see Goldstein and Martin (2000) for a cautionary note). A recent research project and sequence of papers explores the political economy of this increased legalization in the contexts of international trade and investment flows. Johns and Rosendorff (2009) and Gilligan, Johns and Rosendorff (2010) explore the effects of strengthening international courts on the incidence of violations, and on the likelihood of early, pretrial settlement of international disputes. The clear lesson from his work is that stronger courts, and international law is not always preferred. Strong international legal institutions can have a deleterious effect on international cooperation by magnifying the bargaining problems arising from incomplete in formation about the quality of the legal claims. Strong courts create less information revelation in pre-trial bargaining, and hence reduce the likelihood of pre-trial settlements between states; and strong courts lead to more brinksmanship over high-value assets, which leads to conflict if the court refuses to intervene. The key insight is that the strength of the international legal regime will affect the strategic behavior of the member-states in question, and in particular they are less likely to reveal information during pre-trial bargaining, leading to more intense conflict.

International arbitration is also characteristic of manybilateral investment treaties (BITs) that govern firm/state relations when foreign direct investment is involved. A recent paper (Rosendorff and Shin 2012) investigates the conditions under which a country chooses to “import” a stronger court by signing a BIT, and conditional on signing, the effect of BITs on FDI flows in developing countries. Developing autocracies, that lack transparent policy-making processes will be more likely to sign BITs and BITs here have the greatest effect on FDI; transparent developing democracies are less likely to sign, and if they do, the effect of BITs on FDI is not large.

International courts, in these papers, play important informational roles in resolving disputes. It is not necessary for courts to be privy to private information or know something the disputants do not. It is also not necessary for the courts to have an any enforcement powers. Yet information that is generated when courts rule can have significant effects on international cooperation.

Institutions as Information Sources

The design agenda, and the study of courts mentioned above meshes closely with the second major thrust of my research in IPE – that international organizations generate information that affects the domestic politics of the signatory states. This agenda begins in the sequence of papers that predate my arrival at NYU: Both Mansfield, Milner and Rosendorff (2000) and Mansfield, Milner and Rosendorff (2002) show that democracies are more likely to join preferential trading agreements (PTAs) and trade more with each other. It is the latter paper however, that offers an argument regarding the information generating process that PTAs establish. Not only do PTAs bind their signatories to maximal tariff levels, they create “fire alarms” that sound when states violate their obligations. If leaders have incentives to use trade policy either for extractive purposes or to serve special interests, and when the public cannot observe the policy-choices of their executives directly, these fire alarms may improve the quality of the information that the public can use to infer their government’s behavior. An election in adverse conditions could result in the “unfair eviction” of the executive – eviction because the voters suspect the executive has been extractive; unfair because it could simply have been bad aggregate economic conditions rather than extractive behavior that has generated the adverse economic environment. Executives, in order to insure themselves against this unfair eviction sign PTAs, so that their non-extractive behavior can be more easily observed by the public. Democratically accountable executives are particularly sensitive to this logic, and hence are more likely to trade away extractive opportunities in return for holding onto office during economic downturns by signing PTAs. Autocratic executives, less sensitive to the will of the voters, sign PTAs less frequently. As a result democracies are more likely to sign PTAs than autocracies.

A recent paper revisits this question and tests the mechanism more directly. While the earlier papers tested the logical implication of the theory — that democracies sign PTAs more frequently – Hollyer and Rosendorff (2012c) directly investigates if leadership survival in office is enhanced by PTA signing. The answer is yes, and this is especially true of democratic leaders.

My work in human rights reflects some of the same themes regarding the effect of information generated by an IO on domestic politics. This recent agenda has produced 4 papers all produced within the last two years. These include Hollyer and Rosendorff (2011; 2013) and Hollyer and Rosendorff (2012b). The substantive question here is about patterns of accession to human rights treaties. There is variation amongautocracies – some sign, and continue to abuse human rights; others choose not to accede. We rely on the effect of information generated by the signing of the treaty on the domestic political opposition to establish that those autocrats that sign the human rights treaties with the strongest enforcement mechanisms (such as the United Nations Convention Against Torture, (CAT), and the Genocide Convention) do indeed survive in office longer that those that don’t. Moreover, it is the worst offenders that are more likely to sign. Hence their survival is largely due to a selection effect – the strongest, worst abusers are more likely to sign; and because they are strong and abusive, more likely to stay in office longer. But the theory also identifies a causal mechanism – where the act of signing and continuing to abuse human rights credibly signals a commitment to fight – and hence will signal the strength of the will of the autocrat.

A domestic opposition credibly learning the toughness of the autocrat on observing them signing the agreements, will update on the optimal levels of opposition effort. Since effort has declining marginal benefit, and the benefit is now observably lower given the observed strength of the leadership, the optimal response to this news is to reduce the amount of oppositional effort; this information effect causes leader survival among signatories. There is also another causal effect, which we call the commitment effect where if there are added penalties to being a signatory, and then later evicted from office, a leader will fight harder to survive in office after signing a treaty that those that don’t, ceteris paribus. We show that this effect strengthens as the treaties have more enforcement power, and the effect strengthens as a country signs more of the major human rights treaties.

This work also offers the first close examination of the political economy consequences of “universal jurisdiction”, the “responsibility to protect” and the movement against “impunity”. While the removal of torturing autocrats is always a preferable outcome, these papers suggest that tougher penalties, penal courts and other costs that can be applied to torturing autocrats may back-fire, inducing the autocrat to fight harder and to credibly signal their resoluteness, thereby delaying both autocratic removal and democratic transition. More law is not always better.

Aside from offering new insights to the functioning of the international human rights regime, this work also contributes to the emerging literature on the domestic politics of autocracies.

The next paper in this agenda moves away from autocracies – I investigate instead the behavior of new democracies(Hollyer and Rosendorff 2012a). These states appear to sign these treaties more frequently than established democracies, and we attempt to explain this pattern. New governments credibly commit to the democratic program by raising the costs associated with back-sliding into authoritarianism; and they tie the hands of the domestic opposition by acceding to the treaties raising the costs of launching a coup and potentially failing to win. We show that new democracies can enhance their survival by signing only when the domestic opposition is relatively strong; when the new democratic leadership is politically strong, signing doesn’t occur.

Transparency and Democratization

My second major research agenda is about institutional choice at the domestic level, and in particular the political choices over democratic institutions and their prerequisites. Democracy is a multidimensional object – free and fair elections, electoral accountability, separation of powers, civil liberties etc. all make up much of what we think about the object we call “democracy”. This agenda is about unpacking some of these concepts and understanding the links between them, and what these various dimensions mean individually for outcomes we care about – like growth and development.

My interest in this question dates back to Rosendorff (2001) where I establish the link between “pacted” democratic transitions and a flattening of the income distribution. Currently, this project investigates the choice of a state to be “transparent” – to be willing to provide and disseminate accurate and regular information about government policy, actions and outcomes. Rosendorff and Doces (2006) and Hollyer, Rosendorff and Vreeland (2011a) both explore the association between democratic accountability (the presence of free and fair elections) and the willingness of governments to provide credible, reliable information about their actions. Democracies are more transparent, because their leaders experience electoral pressures to provide information about their actions to a skeptical public all too likely to punish leaders at the polls for poor economic performance.

In Hollyer, Rosendorff and Vreeland (2011a) we make use of something often considered a hindrance in IPE scholarship – the missingness of (economic and political outcome) data. We show that that missing data is highly correlated with regime type (even after controlling for state capacity). This work makes a crucial additional point that simply dropping missing observations from IPE scholarship is introducing significant biases into the analysis, because missingness is not random.

The problem with much of the previous literature on this topic is the poor quality of the data available that purports to measure “transparency”. It is often elite survey based, or relies on endogenous measures such as newspaper circulation. I have embarked on a large data generating project, tentatively entitled “Measuring Transparency” with James Vreeland (Georgetown) and James Hollyer (Yale and Minnesota), where we use item response theory to infer the latent tendency to be transparent from the presence or absence of observations in large datasets across countries and years (Hollyer, Rosendorff and Vreeland 2011b). This measure will be objective, directly comparable across countries and time, and be of significant value to the IPE and Comparative Politics community. With this new measure in hand we can then revisit the links between democracy and transparency and embark on an investigation of the crucial role transparency plays in coordinating political action and democratization in autocratic regimes.

Transnational Terrorism

If IPE is about the political and economic causes and consequences of transnational flows, transnational terrorism is a natural area of study for the IPE scholar – it is after all simply a cross border flow of violence, much like interstate war. Together with Todd Sandler (Texas), I coedited a special issue of Journal of Conflict Resolution on the Political Economy of Transnational Terrorism (Rosendorff and Sandler 2005), the product of a conference I organized prior to my arrival at NYU. More recently, Brock Blomberg (Claremont) and I explored a modified “gravity” approach to explore the link between democracy and wealth on terrorist events. By studying separately the characteristics of both source and target states, we can parse out the differential effects of democracy on terrorism (Blomberg and Rosendorff 2009) – for instance democracy increases the likelihood of being a target of an attack, but reduces the likelihood of being the source country of a transnational attack.

Most recently, Sandler and I published a piece on the “backlash effect” – exploring the choices of terrorist organizations about the type of attack – to engage in suicide attacks or not – and the role the backlash might have in generating support and recruits for the political mission of the terrorist organization (Rosendorff and Sandler 2010). Increasing preemption efforts increases the proportion of suicide to “normal” terrorist attacks in the terrorist organization’s strategy profile.

Editorial Work

While this review of my research has focussed on the papers I am listed as an author of, I spend a fair amount of my time engaged in helping others prepare their work for publication. As editor of Economics & Politics, I manage more than 250 submissions each year on my own; others are farmed out to co-editors. Once a paper has received positive reviews, I work closely with authors to revise and edit their papers for publication, frequently demanding clarifications and rewrites. In addition to editing E&P, I sit on the editorial board ofInternational Organization and I am joining the board of Journal of Politics in January 2013. I consider this work a core element of my research activity, a contribution to the production of knowledge, a great way to stay current with research trends across subfields, and something that I enjoy.


1. Just a few examples: In international trade, Pelc (2011; 2012) identifies the purpose of tariff “overhang” – the difference between applied and bound tariff rates – as a flexibility-enhancing device; Reinhardt and Kucik (2008) actually put the “flexibility leading to cooperation” thesis to empirical test, and find strong support. Hafner-Burton, Helfer and Fariss (2011) view the opportunity for states to “derogate” from human rights treaties as a form of tolerated escape/flexibility necessary during emergencies; and flexibility provisions have been studied in climate change treaties (von Stein 2008, Thompson 2010) and in regional trade agreements (Baccini 2010), among others.

Works Cited

•Baccini, Leonardo. 2010. Explaining formation and design of EU trade agreements: The role of transparency and flexibility.European Union Politics 11(2):195–217.

•Blomberg, S. Brock and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2009. A Gravity Model of Globalization, Democracy, and Transnational Terrorism. In Guns and Butter: The Economic Causes and Consequences of Conflict, ed. Gregory D. Hess. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

•Gilligan, Michael J., Leslie Johns and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2010. Strengthening International Courts and the Early Settlement of Disputes.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 54(1):5–38.

•Goldstein, Judith and Lisa L. Martin. 2000. Legalization, Trade Liberalization, and Domestic Politics: A Cautionary Note. International Organization 54(3):603–632.

•Goldstein, Judith, Miles Kahler, Robert Keohane and Anne-Marie Slaughter. 2000. Introduction: Legalization and World Politics. International Organization 54(3):385–400.

•Hafner-Burton, Emilie Marie, Laurence R. Helfer and Christopher J Fariss. 2011. Emergency and Escape: Explaining Derogation from Human Rights Treaties.International Organization 65:673.

•Hollyer, James R. and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2011. Why Do Authoritarian Regimes Sign the Convention Against Torture? Signaling, Domestic Politics and Non-Compliance. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 6(3-4):275–327.

•Hollyer, James R. and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2012a. Democratizing States and Human Rights Treaties: Commitment and Hands-Tying. Working Paper.

•Hollyer, James R. and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2012b. Do Human Rights Agreements Prolong the Tenure of Autocratic Ratifiers? Journal of International Law and Politics 44(3):791–811.

•Hollyer, James R. and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2012c. Leadership Survival, Regime Type, Policy Uncertainty and PTA Accession. International Studies Quarterly.

•Hollyer, James R. and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2013. The International Human Rights Regime Delays Regime Change in the Countries that Need It Most. In Implementing Commitments: The Domestic Effects of Human Rights Treaty Ratification, ed. Beth A. Simmons and Ryan Goodman. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

•Hollyer, James R., B. Peter Rosendorff and James R. Vreeland. 2011a. Democracy and Transparency. Journal of Politics 73(4):1191–1205.

•Hollyer, James R., B. Peter Rosendorff and James Raymond Vreeland. 2011b. Measuring Transparency. Unpublished .

•Johns, Leslie and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2009. Dispute Settlement, Compliance and Domestic Politics. In Trade Disputes and the Dispute Settlement Understanding of the WTO: An Interdisciplinary Assessment, ed. James C. Hartigan. Emerald Group.

•Mansfield, Edward D., Helen V. Milner and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2000. Free to Trade: Democracies, Autocracies and International Trade. American Political Science Review94(2):305–322.

•Mansfield, Edward D., Helen V. Milner and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2002. Why Democracies Cooperate More: Electoral Control and International Trade Agreements.International Organization 56(3):477–514.

•Pelc, Krzysztof. 2011. How States Ration Flexibility: Tariffs, Remedies, and Exchange Rates as Policy Substitutes. World Politics 65(4):618–646.

•Pelc, Krzysztof. 2012. Googling the WTO: What Search Engine Data Tell Us About the Political Economy of Institutions. International Organization 67(3).

•Reinhardt, Eric and Jeffrey Kucik. 2008. Does Flexibility Promote Cooperation? An Application to the Global Trade Regime. International Organization 62(3):477–505.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter. 2001. Choosing Democracy. Economic and Politics 13(1):1–29.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter. 2005. Stability and Rigidity: Politics and the Design of the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Procedure. The American Political Science Review 99(3):389–400.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter. 2006. Do Democracies Trade More Freely? In Democratic Foreign Policy Making: Problems of Divided Government and International Cooperation, ed. Robert Pahre. London: Palgrave.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter and Helen V. Milner. 2001. The Optimal Design of International Trade Institutions: Uncertainty and Escape. International Organization 55(4):829–857.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter and John Doces. 2006. Transparency and Unfair Eviction in Democracies and Autocracies. Swiss Political Science Review 12(3):99–112.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter and Kongjoo Shin. 2012. Importing Transparency: The Political Economy of BITs and FDI flows. Working Paper.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter and Todd Sandler. 2010. Suicide Terror and the Backlash Effect. Defense and Peace Economics 21(5-6):443–458.

•Rosendorff, B. Peter and Todd Sandler, eds. 2005. The Political Economy of Transnational Terrorism. Vol. 49 ofJournal of Conflict Resolution.

•Thompson, Alexander. 2010. Rational design in motion: Uncertainty and flexibility in the global climate regime.European Journal of International Relations 16(2):269–296.

•von Stein, Jana. 2008. The International Law and Politics of Climate Change. Journal of Conflict Resolution 52(2):243–268.