Defectors and the Moral Hazard Problem

Note from the Digital Editor: In order to highlight the high-level of research and scholarship from the authors who have published in the William & Mary Policy Review’s peer-reviewed print journal, we have reproduced the abstracts from Volume 6, Issue 2 along with a link to an electronic copy of the full form of the piece. 

In the case of the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003, indications of pluralist democracy were robust with interest group advocacy and with defectors providing sourcing for Iraq’s alleged weapon breaches. Defector claims flowed directly to the media, the Executive Branch, and the American Intelligence Community. To assess the rational choices of the Executive and defectors regarding the information flow, the hypothesis asserted in this article is that defectors would likely provide knowingly accurate data and information of uncertain validity to a potential attacking state when the personal, professional, and altruistic interests of defectors (in the event of an invasion) plus the probability that the target possesses illegal weapon programs multiplied by the security benefit, exceed the probability that prohibited weapons are not possessed multiplied by the anticipated cost imposed on defectors for furnishing untrue accounts.

The Executive would likely construe individual defector accounts with credibility when there is a higher aggregate likelihood that a target state has breached weapon proscriptions and when defectors perceive that a potential cost will be sufficiently high to overcome the moral hazard problem. With respect to majoritarian democracy norms, if the Executive-agent objectively perceives that defectors will contribute accurate information about weapons, the public-principal’s utility is heightened awareness of a security threat and more informed assent, but if data are inaccurate, the public may become less informed and be more likely to support a less rational policy with lower utility. However, the facts suggest that in the case of the Iraq War, one might consider relaxing assumptions of a non-cooperative interaction between the Bush Administration and defectors and assume that both actors held the same policy goals of going to war from the beginning or even that the Bush Administration used defectors for its own predetermined policy choices.

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Robert Bejesky has taught international law courses for the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. He holds Masters degrees in Political Science, Applied Economics and International Law.