Seminar Series

| University of Pennsylvania

| 31/05/2021 h.12.45

Forming Preference on International Cooperation: Uncertainty, Control, and Shocks to Leadership in the 1919 US Senate Debate on the League of Nations

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How do state preferences emerge in the incipient moments of international cooperation, and what lessons do such moments offer for the fate of international organizations (IOs) today? Opening the `black box' of preferences over international cooperation requires theories of how individual legislators as well as parties adopt positions on IOs, particularly in terms of their electoral and institutional incentives. The founding moments of IOs are a particularly fertile ground to examine how preferences form over IOs, as partisan preferences have yet to crystallize. But because legislative debate is usually circumvented in treaty design, we have few opportunities to explore the formation of those preferences. We argue that legislators respond to the uncertainties around international cooperation by attempting to wrest control over the IO itself. The long-acknowledged tensions between the executive and the legislature can be leveraged as a partisan strategy, overwhelming even pressure from elites, constituents, and civil society. We use a text-as-data approach to estimate the dominance of topics that reflect Congressional incentives compared with topics that reflect constituent pressures or personal ideology, particularly for senators for whom the League was low salience (as proxied by the timing of their speeches). To account for shocks to executive leadership, we leverage two different instances of Wilson unexpectedly being struck by Spanish flu (April) and a stroke (September) as disruptions to the influence of the executive. Our findings suggest that even when the deck is stacked in favor international cooperation -- with elite, interest-group, and constituent support -- Congressional politics still hold considerable power to derail these agreements.



Julia Gray is an associate professor of Political Science (secondary appointment at Wharton’s Business Ethics and Legal Studies department) at the University of Pennsylvania where she specializes in international organizations and international political economy. Her research centers on international economic relations and economic organizations in emerging markets.