An Opportunity Cost Theory of US Treaty Behavior

Journal Article (Journal Article)

The United States often leads in the creation of treaties, but it sometimes never joins those treaties or does so only after considerable delay. This presents an interesting puzzle. Most international relations theory expects states to join treaties as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. Domestic theories modify this with the constraints of institutional veto players. Yet, sometimes neither of these arguments explains the delay or absence of US participation. We supplement these explanations with an opportunity cost theory. We argue that the advice and consent process sometimes slows or stalls because it imposes costs in terms of legislative time and political capital. These costs alter the calculus of key players and may obstruct the process. Statistical analysis supports the argument. The priority the Senate and President give to treaties depends not only on the value they assign to the treaty, but also on the value of the time needed to process the treaty. Presidents are less, not more, likely to transmit treaties to the Senate the more support they have in Congress. Furthermore, the more support the President has in Congress, the more the cost of Senate floor time matters for advice and consent.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kelley, JG; Pevehouse, JCW

Published Date

  • September 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 59 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 531 - 543

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1468-2478

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0020-8833

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/isqu.12185

Citation Source

  • Scopus