International Relations 30 (1), 2016, pp. 78-101.
What motivates the United States, the world’s most powerful country, to seek multilateral approval from the United Nations or NATO for its military interventions? Drawing on interviews with top-level US policymakers and combining process tracing with a structured-focused comparison of several cases, this article reveals that American leaders do not value multilateral approval primarily to avert negative issue linkage, or ‘soft balancing’ in other policy domains. Instead, they are motivated by narrower concerns. Their main goal is to facilitate sustained military and financial burden sharing on the prospective intervention, in the expectation that this will assuage congressional concerns about resource costs, reducing the risk that Congress might withdraw its support once American troops are deployed. The article therefore demonstrates that (1) US policymakers worry less about issue linkage than many international relations theorists, as policymakers are confident that overall, US power inclines other countries to bandwagon with the United States, and (2) contrary to widespread belief, executive-branch concerns about congressional opposition do significantly influence US military intervention decision-making.