The Limits of Resolve in International Politics: Evidence from the Iran Deal Negotiation
Abstract: Trade conditionality as an instrument of economic coercion depends on the credibility of threats to revoke market access from target states that do not fulfill the conditionality. But it is equally important to credibly promise that sanctions will not be imposed on target states that do fulfill the conditionality. What instruments can states deploy to make credible promises without undermining the credibility of their threats? I show how excessive demonstrations of resolve to impose sanctions can undermine the credibility of assurances that market access will be restored once conditionality is met. The theory proposes that states can overcome these challenges by carefully choosing coalition partners who can supplement the credibility of assurances. The paper applies the theory to the Iran deal negotiation and finds that Congressional resolve to maintain sanctions stymied progress. Partnership between the United States and European states having less commitment to sanctions enhanced the effectiveness of trade conditionality and enabled the successful conclusion of the negotiations.