ISSF Forum on “Audience Costs and the Vietnam War”


"Most historians are probably unfamiliar with the concept of ‘audience costs’ despite its increasing importance to the field of international relations theory. Originally developed by James Fearon in a 1994 article in the American Political Science Review, and expanded upon by many other theorists over the last decades, audience costs became a central component in the political science literature on international crises and bargaining.[1] The basic insight of this literature is that democracies have a distinct advantage over autocracies in international crises because of the fact that democratic political leaders cannot avoid paying a serious domestic cost if they fail to back up their threats or commitments. Since democratic states must pay a serious cost with their own public for backing down in a crisis, their threats to stand firm, unlike those of autocratic regimes, are much more credible and send a more powerful signal to their adversaries."

"Does the concept of audience costs help us account for the foreign-policy decisions of American policymakers at crucial moments in the Vietnam War?"

Read the Forum at ISSF, with original essays by Marc Trachtenberg and Bronwyn Lewis, with commentary by Richard Betts, Robert Jervis, Fredrik Logevall (SHAFR president), and John Mearsheimer

Geographical Area: 
United States