Reputation theory and war

Many, if not most, of the wars fought and being fought have their basis in “credibility.” If the U.S. fails to take action against a putative aggressor, then the U.S. ceases to have credibility. And it seems that credibility trumps all other rationales for military intervention.

But upholding one’s “reputation” as a credible corrector of international mayhem turns out to be a false doctrine. Vox‘s Max Fisher reports.

If you have experienced even a few minutes of cable news coverage or handful of newspaper op-eds on American foreign policy, there is a word you will have encountered over and over again: credibility.

The United States, according to this theory, has to follow through on every threat and confront every adversary in order to maintain America’s global credibility. If it fails to stand up to challengers in one place, then they will rise up everywhere, and America will see its global standing, and thus its power in the world, crumble.

But there is a problem with this theory of credibility: It does not appear to be real. Political scientists have investigated this theory over and over, and have repeatedly disproven it.