Revisiting Reputation: How Past Actions Matter in International Politics

Alex Weisiger, Keren Yarhi-Milo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Policy-makers and political scientists have long believed that states must make policy with an eye to maintaining a good reputation, especially a good reputation for resolve. Recent work, however, has argued that reputations for resolve do not form, and hence that past actions do not influence observers' behavior in subsequent interactions. This conclusion is theoretically problematic and unsupported by the evidence offered by reputation critics. In particular, juxtaposing reputation for resolve to power and interests is misleading when past actions influence observers' beliefs about interests, while the common approach of looking at crisis decision making misses the impact of reputation on general deterrence. We thus derive hypotheses about conflict onset from both the arguments of reputation critics and the logic of more standard reputation arguments, which we put to statistical test. We find that past action is closely connected to subsequent dispute initiation and that the effects of reputation generalize beyond the immediate circumstances of the past dispute. Although reputation is not all-important, leaders are well advised to consider the reputational implications of policy decisions in international conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)473-495
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 11 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Law


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