Scholars and policymakers generally assume that multilateral cooperation is a necessary condition for economic sanctions to be of any use. However, previous statistical tests of this assumption have shown that sanctions are more successful with lower levels of cooperation. This puzzle calls into question established theories of economic statecraft as well as theories of international cooperation. In this article I test possible explanations for the ineffectiveness of multilateral cooperation on sanctions events using James Fearon's (1998) breakdown of cooperation into bargaining and enforcement phases as a framework for discussion The empirical results show that when multilateral economic sanctions fail, their failure is due to enforcement, not bargaining problems Without the support of an international organization, cooperating states backslide from promises of cooperation Backsliding occurs because of domestic political pressures and uncertainty about the intentions of the other sanctioning countries; backsliding causes an initial burst of cooperative behavior to decay over time. Without institutional support, cooperation is worse than useless—it is counterproductive. This result suggests that international cooperation is a more fragile equilibrium than previously thought but undercuts realist arguments that international organizations are unimportant.
Daniel W. Drezner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.