R.D. Putnam (1988)

DV441 LT4

 A Summary

In a Nutshell

Putnam wants to model how domestic politics affects international relations, thus leaving behind purely statist/realist perspectives. He starts from the assumption that international decision makers are concerned both with domestic and international pressures. Additionally, these decision makers, known formally as the “state” are not the unitary actors whose preferences do not change despite successive governments as in the realist formulation. Rather parties, social cleavages, elections etc. affect international relations not merely state actors and institutional arrangements. Central-executives mediate between domestic and international pressures.

 He models the process of international cooperation as a two level game. At the national level politicians win power by constructing coalitions of groups who pressure the government to adopt favourable policies. At the international level governments seek to maximize their own ability to satisfy domestic pressures while minimizing any unwanted consequences of foreign developments. Leaders appear in both games. What may be rational in one game may be irrational in the other.

  •  Level I:                 bargaining between the negotiators leads to tentative agreement
  • Level II:               discussions within constituents as to whether to ratify

 The agreement must be ratified by both sides, and it is either voted up or down, amendments cannot happen without re-opening the Level I discussions.

The wins set of the Level II constituency contains all the Level I agreements that will be ratified. There will be agreement when the Level I agreement falls in the Level II win-set, of both constituencies. The interaction of the two constituent win-sets determines the type of Level I agreement that is possible.


  • Larger win-sets make Level I agreement more likely. Small win sets imply a breakdown at the Level I stage. Although repeated action (Axelrod) can make voluntary defection less likely, win-set size determines the level of involuntary defection (from not being able to secure ratification). So negotiator credibility may be low due to inability to deliver on the promises, even if the costs of reneging are thought to be high in terms of repeated interaction theory. Involuntary defection can be as deadly as the fear of voluntary defection.
  • Relative size of respective Level II win sets affects distribution of joint gains from international cooperation. The larger the perceived win set of the other negotiator the more he can be pushed around. So a smaller win set can be a negotiating advantage. “A third world leader whose domestic position is relatively weak (Argentina’s Alfonsin?) should be able to drive a better bargain with his international creditors, other things being equal, than one whose domestic standing is more solid (Mexico’s de la Madrid?).”

 Determinants of the Win Set

  • Distribution of power, preferences and coalitions in the Level II constituents – costs of no agreement will affect different member of the constituency differently, and support may be generic (e.g. those always in favour/against of freer trade). The win set size will depend on relative power of those forces [collective action problems, cleavages predicting preferences, worker skills etc. etc.].
    • If there is homogenous conflict (everyone wants more of something e.g. oil allowances, but there are doves and hawks, so conflict divides how much to push for in international agreement) the negotiator can use implicit threat of hawks to push for better results. However chances of involuntary defection are higher.
    • If there is heterogeneous conflict there is no “more the better” principle. Sometimes cleavages will actually help in international agreement however, as there will be more alternatives in the win set that could get a majority support. It depends on the distribution of the cleavages.
    • It is not clear that all groups will participate in ratification (Gowa) especially when benefits/costs are more concentrated on large groups (monetary policy) rather than small groups (trade policy). Level II games will be much more important in the latter.
    • When negotiating on various proposals, negotiators can compensate losses of certain domestic groups (e.g. by getting access to foreign markets) even if they have to agree on other policies where they lose, and would not thus be possible to implement on a national only level.
    • Size of the win-set depends on Level II institutions – e.g. is two thirds majority needed etc. A large majority rule improves bargaining position but reduces likelihood of cooperation. Not all ratification processes are formal e.g. party discipline can increase win-set. The greater the autonomy of the decision maker from the constituents, the greater the size of the win-set (e.g. central bankers). However, the stronger the state, the weaker the bargaining position internationally as feigning lack of domestic support will be less credible e.g. authoritarian regimes.
    • Size of the win-set depends on the strategies of the Level I negotiators. Efforts to increase (pre-level I softening up of public opinion) or decrease (organizing strikes etc.) the win sets can affect the Level I negotiations. Side payments can be used, and often negotiators are colluding to get ratification in both constituencies. Good will is important and can in some instances expand the win-set. Popularity of each other negotiator is important and should be increased in order to increase the win-set of the other side.


  • Uncertainty about the other’s win-set increases concern regarding involuntary defection. Deals can only be done if both sides think the other has the capability to deliver.


  • International pressures can reverberate into the domestic field to change public opinion and thus win-sets during the negotiation process. Messages from abroad can change minds.

 Role of Chief Negotiator

  • Until now he has been assumed to have no personal policy preferences. Principal-Agent theory reminds us this is unrealistic. His motives may include: enhancing his own standing by winning political resources or minimizing losses; shifting the balance of power at level II toward policies he prefers but might not otherwise be domestically possible (e.g. IMF deals in LA); pursue own conception of the national interest.
  • Even if a deal in in the level II win set if the negotiator is a head of state for example he may not agree at level I, and thus retains veto power. He may be caught in a pattern of policy that means even if a deal is in the Level II win-set; it may be too costly for him to build a new coalition away from the coalition based on previous policy.

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