When are states able to communicate effectively during negotiations? We argue that division of labor within government can degrade international communication by introducing transmission noise, whereby bureaucracies dispatch messages to foreign countries that deviate from their leader’s intended meaning. The severity of transmission noise depends on the structure of bureaucratic institutions. Closed structures raise costs of information sharing between leaders and bureaucrats, which elevates transmission noise through coordination and agency failures. Open structures reduce transmission noise by providing clearer leader guidance and better oversight of bureaucratic signaling. In short, mutual understanding between states depends on solving organizational problems within states. We evaluate the theory by applying a novel process tracing technique to two cases of crisis signaling before and after institutional reforms in India during the mid-1960s, as well as through a statistical analysis of original cross-national data on crisis signaling from 1945 to 2012. The theory and findings emphasize the important, but relatively overlooked, roles that bureaucracy and signal transmission noise play in international communication.
Tyler Jost is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brown University. He is currently on sabbatical leave as the David and Cindy Edelson Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy and International Security at Dartmouth College. His research focuses on national security decision-making, bureaucratic politics, and Chinese foreign policy. His research has been published in International Organization, International Security, Journal of Conflict Resolution, and International Studies Quarterly. Dr. Jost’s first book, Bureaucracies at War (Cambridge University Press), examines how different types of bureaucratic institutions across the world lead to better and worse foreign policy decisions. He is currently working on a second book examining the domestic origins of international engagement. Dr. Jost completed his doctoral degree in the Department of Government at Harvard University and held postdoctoral fellowships at the Belfer Center International Security Program at the Kennedy School of Government, as well as in the China and the World Program at Columbia University.
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