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Optimal Imperfection?
Domestic Uncertainty and Institutions in International Relations
George W. Downs & David M. Rocke

Paperback | 1997 | $47.95 | £39.95 | ISBN: 9780691016252
176 pp. | 6 x 9 | 12 figs. 6 tables
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"Domestic politics matters" has become a rallying cry for international relations scholars over the past decade, yet the question still remains: Just how does it matter? In this book, George Downs and David Rocke argue that an important part of the international impact of domestic politics springs from the institutional responses to its many uncertainties. This impact is due not so much to the errors in judgment these uncertainties can cause as to the strategic and institutional consequences of knowing that such errors are possible.

The heart of the book is its formal analysis of how three kinds of domestic uncertainty have shaped international relations through their influence on three very different institutions. One chapter deals with the decision rules that citizens create to cope with uncertainty about the quality of their representation, and how these can lead to the paradoxical "gambling for resurrection" effect. Another chapter describes the extent to which the weak enforcement provisions of GATT can be understood as a mechanism to cope with uncertain but intermittent interest group demands for protection. The third chapter looks at the impact of uncertainty on the creation, survival, and membership of multilateral regulatory institutions, such as the Montreal Protocol and EU, when some states question the capacity of other states to meet their treaty obligations.


"George Downs and David Rocke's new book on the intersection of domestic politics and international relations is an important and exciting contribution to the burgeoning game theory literature on the subject. Moving beyond the two-level game metaphor both in terms of analytical rigor and in terms of subject matter, it focuses on how uncertainty about aspects of a state's domestic politics can affect international behavior and institutions."--Andrew Kydd, Political Science Quarterly


"Optimal Imperfection? is a wonderful book that makes a major contribution to establishing the scientific foundations for the study of international affairs. After reading Downs and Rocke, international relations scholars will have to take a long, deep breath."--Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Hoover Institution

"In this highly creative book, Downs and Rocke in effect turn the study of international relations on its head. The authors, addressing for the first time in a formal and systematic manner the crucial and central role played by uncertainty and domestic politics in the foreign affairs of states, provide an innovative resolution to one of the most important issues in the study of international institutions and of international affairs in general."--Robert Gilpin, Princeton University

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Hardcover published in 1995

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