NS: Transatlantic Shakedown: Does Presidential “Naming and Shaming” Affect NATO Burden-sharing?

The United States’ relationship with its allies is a recurring topic in politics. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military intergovernmental alliance between European and North American countries. United States presidents have a history of “naming and shaming” their allies to evoke more contributions. More specifically, the United States publicly criticizes the financial commitments of other members of NATO. This issue presents whether the United States calling out and publicly criticizing allies and members of NATO leads to more contributions from those being charged. Professor Sarah Kreps of Cornell University is a John Weathers Professor of Government. Professor Kreps’ research is at the intersection of international politics, technology, and national security. She answers the question presented above in her Tower Center presentation while also explaining alliances and multilateral coalitions. Before sharing what motivated her to research this topic, she emphasizes that the case being presented relates very closely to questions of policy with which people are familiar.

Presidential administrations in the United States have a history of naming and shaming other countries and members of NATO. The Trump administration was the most recent example of this issue. Comments made within this administration are what motivated Professor Kreps and her colleagues to research this topic. The central research question that was being answered was whether the United States presidents’ naming and shaming of NATO allies cause any change. The politics of NATO was designed to help rebuild Europe after the Second World War. The members of NATO came together to help their member countries protect themselves against the Soviet Union. Yet, many members agreed to the terms of the alliance even though there were many details left unclear. Professor Kreps presented an example of naming and shaming by the United States in 1953 when they publicly stated that they would have to take an “agonizing reappraisal” of one of its allies. This tactic is used to call out countries that are not adhering to certain international norms. There are reputational and material costs that come with naming and shaming. The United States has always been at the center of the alliance. They contribute a considerable number of troops, facilities, and spending. Therefore, the United States is more comfortable naming and shaming other countries. United States political mechanisms suggest that American leaders gesture towards burden-sharing because it appeases the isolationist strand of their domestic audience.

While the United States has a consistent history of naming and shaming, there are many instances when it has been ineffective. The biggest reason it can be ineffective is that many of the countries’ commitments are not enforceable. All the nations know that the threats are not credible. Also, these countries have multiple reputations, and the naming and shaming efforts do not pertain to each reputation. Dr. Kreps and her colleagues did an empirical evaluation of the American Presidency Project. They found that United States shaming has less impact on immediate political considerations like economic growth and unemployment. The answer to whether naming and shaming lead to any contributions is no, it does not. NATO countries have more immediate political pressures, and the United States’ rhetorical taunts are made to appease American audiences. Dr. Kreps concluded her presentation by presenting the idea of including Congress in future research to help develop this theory.

Watch the entire event below:

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This post was written by JaQuia White ‘22, an SMU Tower Center Intern. She is majoring in Corporate Communication and Public Affairs with a focus in Public Affairs and Political Communication and a Women and Gender Studies minor. She is on the SMU Women’s Basketball team and is the President of the Black Student-Athlete Committee. She is also the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion chair for the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.