An undergoing paper coauthored with Judith Kelley


The international community is often striving to promote political and human rights reforms in recalcitrant countries. As the study of such efforts has matured, there has been growing concern that although governments may undertake the desired reforms they may counteract them by switching from the targeted type of misconduct into another spillover type of misconduct. Unfortunately, the simple correlations between the intervention and behavioral changes cannot lead to casual conclusions, as they can be caused by the intervention or other factors, or it is a result of reverse casualty, that is the pressure targets aberrant countries. These various explanations of a correlation make it essential to scrutinize the data for the presence of the theorized causal mechanisms. This article presents a framework for assessing the plausibility of counteraction. Specifically, counteraction requires conditional behavioral shifts, that is, international pressure should be accompanied not only by deterioration in the spillover behavior but also by improvements in the targeted behavior. It then revisits two prior studies, one finding that human rights shaming is associated with more physical terror, the other that international election monitors harm governance. In neither case do we find evidence of the required causal mechanisms of the counteraction. Lastly, the article discusses how exacting the standards of evidence should be in the study of policy actions that affect vulnerable populations. It thus contributes methodologically, revisits important prior findings, and raises important normative questions.