Re-election and Renegotiation: International Agreements in the Shadow of the Polls
by Peter Buisseret, University of Chicago and Dan Bernhardt, University of Illinois and University of Warwick
States routinely sign treaties and participate in international institutions. These activities are negotiated by governments that face a threat of electoral replacement, raising the possibility that arrangements signed by today’s administrations may not be honored by their successors. Recent examples include the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran deal, and—possibly—NAFTA. We develop a game-theoretic model of international negotiations when: one of the negotiating parties faces a threat of electoral replacement during the negotiations, and agreements made before the election are the basis for any subsequent renegotiation. Conflicts of interest between governments may be softened or intensified by the governments’ conflicts of interest with voters. We show when the threat of electoral turnover strengthens the prospect for successful negotiations, when it may cause negotiations to fail, and how it affects the division of the gains from cooperation between states. We also show how changes in domestic politics—including the preferences of political parties—affect a government’s ability to extract greater concessions.