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Debt Relief, and Moral Action in International Politics

Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry: Jubilee 2000,
Debt Relief, and Moral Action in
International Politics
LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas
Do states and decision-makers ever act for moral reasons? And if they
do, is it only when it is convenient or relatively costless for them to do
so? A number of advocacy movementsFon developing country debt
relief, climate change, landmines, and other issuesFemerged in the
1990s to ask decision-makers to make foreign policy decisions on that
basis. The primary advocates were motivated not by their own material
interests but broader notions of right and wrong. What contributes to
the domestic acceptance of these moral commitments? Why do some
advocacy efforts succeed where others fail? Through a case study of the
Jubilee 2000 campaign for developing country debt relief, this article
offers an account of persuasion based on strategic framing by advocates
to get the attention of decision-makers. Such strategic but not narrowly
self-interested activity allows weak actors to leverage existing value and/
or ideational traditions to build broader political coalitions. This article,
through case studies of debt relief in the United States and Japan, also
links the emerging literature on strategic framing to the domestic institutional context and the ways veto players or ‘‘policy gatekeepers’’
evaluate trade-offs between costs and values.
Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its
inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family
property and each to his own clan (Leviticus 25:10).
In September 2000, the Irish rock star Bono met with North Carolina’s Senator
Jesse Helms and urged the conservative head of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee to support developing country debt relief. Helms was known for
Author’s note: I thank colleagues from Georgetown University, the Brookings Institution, Harvard University’s
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Princeton University’s Center for Globalization and Governance, and three anonymous reviewers for comments on this project. I also thank students from Georgetown and
Mannheim University as well as Bethany Albertson, Rosa Alonso, Jeffrey Anderson, Francis Beer, Andrew Bennett,
Carl Brenner, Mark Copelovitch, Thomas Callaghy, James Davis, Kelly Greenhill, G. John Ikenberry, Patrick
Jackson, Sarah Knight, Richard Ned Lebow, Jeff Legro, Jon Monten, Rodger Payne, Jon Rosenwasser, Thomas
Risse, Frank Schimmelfennig, Sidney Tarrow, Leslie Vinjamuri, Mark Warren, and Thomas Wright for their helpful
comments on earlier iterations. Thanks to Raymond Hicks for valuable suggestions for data. Special thanks go to
those who agreed to be interviewed. These include David Bryden, Sonny Callahan, Jamie Drummond, Stephanie
Flanders, Dan Driscoll-Shaw, Alan Gill, Scott Hatch, Thomas M. Hart, Nicola Jenns, Mark Lagon, Adrian Lovett,
Jamie McCormick, Larry Summers, Susan Thompson, as well as other officials and advocates who provided me with
invaluable background information.
r 2007 International Studies Association.
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
International Studies Quarterly (2007) 51, 247–275
equating foreign aid with throwing money down ‘‘ratholes.’’ However, after their
meeting, Helms embraced debt relief and, later, funding to combat AIDS in the
developing world. How can we explain this change? Bono claimed that Helms wept
when they spoke: ‘‘I talked to him about the Biblical origin of the idea of Jubilee
Year . . .. He was genuinely moved by the story of the continent of Africa, and he
said to me, ‘America needs to do more.’ I think he felt it as a burden on a spiritual
level’’ (Dominus 2000:6). Of his meeting with Bono, Helms said, ‘‘I was deeply
impressed with him. He has depth that I didn’t expect. He is led by the Lord to do
something about the starving people in Africa’’ (Wagner 2000). The story of Helms’
tears may be apocryphal, but it speaks both to the peculiar religiosity of the United
States and more generally to the power of a compelling frame to persuade key veto
players or ‘‘policy gatekeepers’’ to support a morally motivated policy. This article,
through a case study of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for debt relief, seeks to explain
how states may be moved to support ‘‘moral action.’’1
In the post-Cold War era, advocacy movements emerged to pressure the advanced industrialized world to address a number of new issues. The cases were
distinctive because the primary advocates were motivated by broader notions of
right and wrong rather than their own material interest. Issues that fell under this
rubric included campaigns for the International Criminal Court, fair trade, religious freedom in China and the Sudan, as well as campaigns against global warming,
AIDS, child labor, landmines, the ‘‘blood’’ diamond trade, small arms, and sweatshops. Under what conditions are these efforts successful? When will states take on
these new normative commitments? As Price notes, the next generation of this kind
of research needs to answer: ‘‘why do some campaigns succeed in some places but
fail in others?’’ (Price 2003:586). Through a case study of the Jubilee 2000 campaign for developing country debt relief, this piece seeks to answer those questions
and add to the emerging literature on transnational social movements. This article
develops a generalizable argument about strategic framing and the ways in which
advocates seek to tap into the values of the polities they are targeting and get the
attention and support of ‘‘policy gatekeepers,’’ potential veto players able to block
policy change.
The Jubilee 2000 campaignFthe campaign to write-off the external debt of the
world’s poorest countriesFprovides an interesting case study. The case is a puzzle
because some states acted contrary to their narrow material interests, apparently at
the behest of a transnational advocacy group. This case is also puzzling because
debt negotiations are normally discussed in a rarefied world of central bankers and
Treasury officials, multilateral bureaucrats, and private financiers, nearly all of
whom are committed to minimizing moral hazard and are thus skeptical of writing
off external debts. Two economists called the campaign ‘‘by far the most successful
industrial-country movement aimed at combating world poverty for many years,
perhaps in all recorded history’’ (Birdsall and Williamson 2002:1). It earned the
endorsement of leaders of diverse ideological and professional orientationsFthe
Pope, Bono, Jeffrey Sachs, and Pat Robertson. The campaign earned the support of
strong political allies in the U.K. and U.S. governments, making it harder for other
creditorsFsuch as Japan, France, and GermanyFto oppose debt relief.
Organized around the coming of the twenty-first century, Jubilee 2000 was an
international campaign that aimed to relieve the world’s poorest countries of their
‘‘unpayable’’ external debts. The reference to Jubilee comes from the Biblical notion in the Book of Leviticus of a time to relieve the debts of the poor. In the early
1990s, Martin Dent, a professor at Keele University in the United Kingdom, came
up with the idea for a ‘‘Jubilee year’’ end of the millennium campaign, inspired by
his knowledge of the Bible and ethical commitment to the third world (Dent and
1 I follow other work on the role of morality in foreign policy by McElroy (1992) and Lumsdaine (1993).
248 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
Peters 1999). Dent’s advocacy began with his students but soon attracted Christian
Aid, the World Development Movement, and other U.K. charities. Jubilee 2000 was
formally launched in April 1996. The movement blossomed, galvanizing millions
worldwide to participate in letter-writing efforts and protests before the official
campaign closed at the end of 2000. In policy terms, Jubilee 2000’s efforts moved
donors to more than double the amount of debt relief on offer; by May 2006, 19
states already qualified to have $23.4 billion of their debts written off through the
HIPC initiative (World Bank 2006). In 2005, a successor campaign was able to
induce rich creditors to commit to write-off 100% of the debts the poorest countries
owed to the World Bank, IMF, and the African Development Bank. Moreover, the
liberal–religious conservative coalition that came together on debt relief presaged
advocacy efforts that would play an important role in the Bush Administration’s $15
billion financial commitment to fight AIDS.
While debt relief is interesting in its own right, this article offers a useful framework for classifying cases and assessing the likelihood of the success of advocacy
efforts across a range of phenomena. The piece is divided into six sections. The first
section locates this paper in the wider scholarly debate. The second section develops a strategic framing/policy gatekeepers explanation for when advocacy movements
are likely to succeed. The third section provides additional background on debt
relief. The fourth section develops a partial explanation for support for debt relief
and compliance patterns based on material interest and describes its limitations. The
fifth section discusses how strategic framing/policy gatekeepers improves upon material
interest arguments. The sixth section explores the causal processes of debt relief in
the United States and Japan. The article employs qualitative case studies including
typologies and process-tracing.2
Contribution to International Relations
This article seeks to overcome limitations of the main schools of thought in international relations theory. The dominant traditionsFneorealism and neoliberalismFassume the state as unitary actor has interests that can be objectively read
from conditions in the international system. The major difference between them is
in their assessments of how much cooperation can be fostered by institutions. Thus,
both are based on material interest where states respond to calculations of cost/
benefit.3 Neither looks inside the state to examine the impact of domestic politics
nor are these approaches able to account for actors being motivated by moral
concerns. While rational choice and pluralist approaches get at the micro-foundations of state behavior, actors are primarily, though not essentially, understood to be
self-interested maximizers of material utility.4 Another theoretical approachFconstructivismFtakes ideas, culture, and values more seriously but has difficulty explaining under which conditions ideational factors and norms matter (Kowert and
Legro 1996:486; Checkel 1997:476). By norms, the emphasis is on regulatory
norms, the social conventions or rules, procedures, and principles that establish the
standards of behavior for members of a group in a given context (Finnemore and
Sikkink 1999:251). This notion of ‘‘oughtness’’ has been termed the logic of appropriateness. In contrast to the logic of consequences, where actors are motivated
by the costs and benefits of different actions, logics of appropriateness reflect notions of right and wrong, of good and bad ethical behavior (March and Olsen 1998).
2 These methods are appropriate for small-to-medium N research where statistical analysis is not possible and
where we are interested in mid-range generalizations about politics and understanding of causal mechanisms. For
an extended discussion, see George and Bennett (2005). 3 The ‘‘neoutilitarian’’ foundations of realism and neoliberalism were noted by Ruggie (1999).
4 Most ‘‘liberal’’ accounts emphasize rational action in terms of material interest (Milner 1997). Moravcsik’s
discussion of ideational and republican liberalism is an exception (Moravcsik 1997).
While systemic incentives shape and shove states, domestic-level constraints coupled with the agency of actors themselves are important if we wish to explain
foreign policy outcomes. Inspired by scholarship on ‘‘two-level games,’’ my research gets at the question of when ideas and norms matter by focusing on the
domestic acceptance of international agreements (Putnam 1988). As I argue in the
article, in institutional contexts characterized by few policy gatekeepers, the key
decision occurs at the time of international negotiation. In settings with multiple
actors that can block policy change, the key decision occurs after an agreement has
been negotiated and decision-makers have to take it home for approval. In the case
of a treaty like the Kyoto Protocol, this means domestic ratification. For other types
of agreements, this may involve an appropriation process. This article focuses on
‘‘empowerment’’ when states first pass measures in support of a norm (Checkel
1997:479). It is related to more long-lived processes of compliance (Simmons
1998). However, rather than ask ‘‘when do states accept new norms?’’ it may be
helpful to focus on when states accept norms-based policies. While a norm is often
abstract, a norm-based policy reflects a situation where activists have claimed injustices need redress. In the case of debt relief, advocates believe high levels of third
world external debt constitute a wrong that creditor nations have a moral obligation
to address. In response to their activism, a policy was drafted. Thus, the norm (‘‘the
unpayable debts of the poorest countries ought to be forgiven’’) becomes embodied
in a policy (the Highly Indebted Poor Country initiative). States may accept a policy
without embracing the norm, and even if the policy is accepted, advocates may
remain unsatisfied that the norm remains unfulfilled.
The Jubilee 2000 was a political success in that creditor governments accepted
deeper debt reduction at the G-8 Cologne Summit in 1999. Political success is
different from policy success. It is too soon to write a definitive judgment of
whether or not the problem has been ameliorated. Actual debt relief has been
modest. The campaign’s long-term impact is still open, as is true for most campaigns of the 1990s. How does such political success come about? In their search for
mechanisms by which states come to embrace norms-based policies, scholars have
identified coercion and persuasion as two primary mechanisms.5 Early accounts of
persuasion by Finnemore and Sikkink ultimately relied on more instrumental
pressure from lobbying and strategic use of language. Several scholars influenced
by Ju¨rgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action have differentiated ‘‘true’’
persuasion from rhetorical action, distinguishing a logic of argumentation distinct
from logics of consequences and appropriateness (Risse 2000). ‘‘True’’ persuasion
ideally involves situations cleaved of material and social power; such accounts of
persuasion are based on a mechanism of dialogue, consensus, and actors embracing
norms as a result of deeper preference change (Payne 2001). This portrait of political change may be rather rare in political life (Jackson and Krebs 2003:6).
Those that study processes of norms diffusion recognize this, suggesting that in
pluralistic liberal polities like the U.S., advocates of norms generally succeed
through instrumental pressure/lobbying. Persuasive dynamics of social learning are
thought to occur in more statist regimes (Checkel 1999:89; Checkel 2001). However, this move concedes too much empirical terrain to explanations that rely on
coercion, material sanctions, and political pressure. We can identify the range of
mechanisms by which states may accept a norms-based policy on a Coercion–Conversion continuum (see Figure 1). On one extreme, military action forces a state to
accept a policy. On the other, policy-makers undergo an epiphany once presented
with arguments in favor of a policy. In between, a variety of mechanisms exist to
induce changes in state behavior.
5 For surveys of these mechanisms, see Cortell and Davis (2000) and Cardenas (2004).
250 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
Drawing on the social movement literature, scholars have recognized that framing, the strategic use of rhetoric, by advocates is a particularly potent strategy by
which weak actors are able to exercise influence and induce states to embrace new
policy commitments inspired by norms (Betsill 2000; Sell and Prakash 2004). Such
‘‘symbolic politics’’ are necessary given the relative weakness of proponents and
because norms emerge ‘‘in a highly contested normative space where they must
compete with other norms and perceptions of interest’’ (Finnemore and Sikkink
1999:257). Advocacy movements for these new international issues rarely have
sufficient political power to alter elections. However, advocates can shape the general image and reputation of decision-makers through praise and shame, making
them ‘‘look good’’ or ‘‘look bad.’’ The less coercive side of framing appeals to mass
publics and policy-makers, engaging them on grounds they agree with already. If
advocates’ appeals to decision-makers’ existing values initially fall short, they and
their allies can become more coercive, beginning with shaming other policy-makers
for failure to uphold societal values. Recent articles, including several in this journal, have taken steps in this direction (Schimmelfennig 2001; Joachim 2003;
Acharya 2004; Hawkins 2004; Carpenter 2005; Sundstrom 2005). This article seeks
to augment the contributions of this research. For example, Hawkins, like Finnemore, focuses on the importance of international normative pressures in shaping
state behavior (Finnemore 1996). However, as both Acharya and Sundstrom argue,
international norms are less likely to be effective without domestic bases of support.
As many other scholars have found, advocates are more likely to be successful
when their goals are perceived to fit with the deeply held preferences (over ends)
the public and policy-makers already have.6 Boosting a norm’s profile requires that
champions of norms frame their arguments for successful alliance-building (Keck
and Sikkink 1998:17). For a small moral interest group to succeed, what Kaufmann
and Pape call a ‘‘saintly logroll,’’ they must appeal to principles backed by the ‘‘main
political factions.’’ Moral movements, they argue, are likely to be successful the
more they link their arguments to domestic reformist movements seeking to root
out domestic corruption (Kaufmann and Pape 1999:663–664). While movements
need to tap into the value and ideational traditions of the broader society, national
role conceptions, collective ideas about the national interest, and notions of morality
may also be sufficiently resonant to create winning coalitions.
Framing here is imported from the social movement literature in sociology pioneered by Mayer Zald, David Snow, Sidney Tarrow, and others. Snow defines
framing as ‘‘the conscious strategic efforts by groups of people to fashion shared
understandings of the world and of themselves that legitimate and motivate collective action’’ (McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996:6). Frames serve as mental
shortcuts by which policy-makers can sort information and understand the causes
of a problem, its consequences, and potential solutions (Zald 1996:262). Frames
help establish whether individuals can connect to cultural traditions. While policy entrepreneurs may invent new rhetoric, they typically find a repertoire of arguments
Consensual Dialogue
(Communicative Action)
Strategic Framing
(Rhetorical Action)
Military Sanctions Shaming
Coercion Negative Incentive Positive Benefit Attention Shift Conversion
FIG. 1. Coercion–Conversion Continuum
6 Different terms describe this concept: grafting (Price), cultural match (Cortell/Davis, Checkel), fit (Kingdon),
the nature of political discourse (Hall), resonance (Snow, Ikenberry), political culture (Risse-Kappen), legitimacy
( Jacobsen), concordance (Legro), congruence (Acharya) (Snow and Benford 1988; Hall 1989:363; Jacobsen
1995:295; Kingdon 1995; Risse-Kappen 1995:188; Legro 1997:35; Checkel 1999:86; Cortell and Davis 2000:29;
Price 2003; Acharya 2004).
in the public arena that they can appropriate, what Jackson and Krebs call ‘‘rhetorical commonplaces’’ ( Jackson and Krebs 2007). Nonetheless, framing is a synthetic activity rather than a purely evocative one. While advocacy groups may
employ a dominant frame, they may also employ multiple messages to appeal to
different groups. For example, while the dominant message of Jubilee 2000 linked
the moral case for debt relief to religious morality, activists also made targeted
appeals in different countries, reminding the Germans of the debt relief they benefited from after WWII and the Japanese that their leadership role was at stake.
Successful strategic framing is thusFin theoryFdistinguishable from more fundamental belief change and from more coercive efforts that rely mostly on shaming
and political pressure.7 From this perspective, we should view framing exercises as
defining situations and activating existing preferences. Policy-makers care about
many things, not all of them equally. Circumstance may make a new issue salient.
Salience means that an issue becomes temporally compelling to decision-makers. A
politician, for example, may care about both poverty in the developing world and
effective use of government resources. In the midst of a recession, the costs of
foreign aid might become more important. These serial shifts in attentiveness make
sense of efforts to cue emotional/moral frames and boost the salience of one dimension of a problem over another.8 The assumption is actors’ basic preferences
over outcomesFwhat they value mostFare largely stable in the short-run. Preferred preferences over meansFabout specific policiesFare less deeply rooted.
Frames thus link a policy to a particular evaluative lens, facilitating shifts in support
for the policy even as long-run values remain largely unchanged.9 To explain the
conditions under which transnational advocacy movements’ framing efforts are
likely to succeed, this article focuses on how three dimensions of the ‘‘domestic
political opportunity structure’’Fvalues, costs, and institutionsFconjoin.
The ArgumentFStrategic Framing/Gatekeepers
Under what conditions will framing be successful? Payne worries that it is impossible to make a priori predictions (Payne 2001:44). This article seeks to provide a
spare explanation that can assist us in explanation and prediction. Six conditions
are potentially significant for framing success: (1) a permissive international context
(2) focusing events (3) credible information (4) low costs (5) cultural match, and (6)
supportive policy gatekeepers. This article focuses on the concatenation of the final
three. The basic argument is that framing is more likely to be successful when the
costs of the policies attached to them are low and the frames match the cultural
values of the polities they are targeting. These are cases of cheap moral action. However, even when the policies are more costly, frames can be successful if policy
gatekeepers believe the values and ideas at stake are important. These are cases of
costly moral action.
Permissive International Context
As realists would argue, the international system or ‘‘political opportunity structure’’ can either be permissive or obstruct the acceptance of a norms-based policy
(McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald 1996). A high security threat or a more generalized
economic malaise may crowd out social movements and focus the attention of
decision-makers on higher-order political priorities. This factor was mostly a
7 In practice, it may be difficult to differentiate between situations where actors are persuaded by better arguments from actors reacting to rhetoric praising or blaming them (Hawkins 2004:783). 8 Jones (1994:83). These situational redefinitions are similar to ‘‘heresthetics’’ (Riker 1986).
9 For a sophisticated treatment, see Fearon and Wendt (2003). This does not preclude long-run preference
change, as has taken place on civil rights in the American South ( Jones 1994).
252 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
constant in the 1990s when material threats were low and economic circumstances
for most advanced industrialized countries were generally pretty positive (with
Japan a possible exception). Thus, if we were looking to make generalizations about
advocacy in the 1990s, the contextFincluding advances in telecommunications and
transportFwas a permissive one for all campaigns, not just debt relief. A favorable
context may be neither necessary nor sufficient for successful advocacy, as the
campaign for HIV/AIDS funding after 9/11 suggests.
Focusing Events
A second factor is the role of a crisis or some other focusing event that makes a
problem more salient. Crises like the December 2004 tsunami or the attacks of
September 11th are examples. In the case of debt relief, the campaign’s ‘‘expiration
date’’ at the end of the millennium year concentrated attention. Regularly scheduled events like international conferences can also serve to focus attention. In those
instances, an issue already on the conference agenda forces decision-makers to
develop a policy (Kingdon 1995; Finnemore and Sikkink 1999). Campaigners are
good at manufacturing events, taking advantage of news and venue shopping until
their issues get on the agenda. Focusing events may be necessary to delegitimate an
old set of ideas, but they are not sufficient to allow a new idea to become consolidated (Legro 2005:11).
Credible Information
A third factor that can enhance the work of advocates is if their claims about
problems and solutions are supported by credible third-party information. Decisionmakers are likely to ask ‘‘is it true?’’ and ‘‘will it work?’’ Here, the roles of epistemic
communities (scientific and technical experts), the media, and even religious figures are important (Haas 1992).10 While helpful, both successful and unsuccessful
campaigns in the 1990s benefited from dedicated communities of experts. Frames
that make causal claims that are known to be false should more often than not fail,
but while necessary, credible information may not be sufficient to tip the political
balance in favor of policy change (e.g., the climate change campaign in the United
A synthetic combination of three other causesFlow costs, high value fit, and
supportive policy gatekeepersFprovides a relatively parsimonious way to explain
and potentially predict successful framing. Moreover, the combination of costs,
values, and gatekeepers gets inside foreign policy decision making to show that
while actors have agency, they are bounded by larger societal values and the institutional context in which they operate.
Low Costs
All else equal, frames are more likely to be successful when the policy solutions
attached to them are not costly. Issues championed by principled advocacy movements typically resemble public goods, where the benefits largely accrue to foreigners rather than the citizens of the nation-state. The direct benefits for the home
populace are more attenuated or drawn out over time. Politicians, worried about
their own electoral fortunes, have to evaluate the uncertain and long-term benefits
of a policy against the more immediate costs for the country of supporting the
policy. While a number of other considerations go into the metric of assessing the
national interest, ‘‘how much will it cost us?’’ is one of the most important questions
10 Callaghy argued the debt campaign succeeded because an epistemic community of debt specialists from
universities, NGOs, and the IFIs developed to provide technical oversight (Callaghy 2001).
policy-makers will ask. In addition, given that these problems involve coordination
and bargaining between different states, decision-makers will likely assess the relative costs and ask, ‘‘what are our costs compared with others?’’
Cultural Match
Even where the evidence suggests a problem exists and solutions can be effective,
donor interests may remain opaque or inadequate as sufficient justification to
overcome political inertia and opposition. Decision-makers cannot be sure debt
relief will work as planned. The accompanying moral arguments can serve as tipbalancers to legitimate action, for those for whom self-interested justifications do
not seem convincing. In other words, in addition to asking ‘‘will it work?’’ and ‘‘how
much will it cost?’’ decision-makers will ask ‘‘what is the right thing to do?’’ There is
not a unique resonant value in a given culture. Indeed, an issue can be framed in a
number of ways that are consistent with the culture but that are tied to opposing
policy solutions. Specific frames thus serve as focal points in strategic interactions
most likely characterized by multiple equilibria. That said, this does not mean that
anything goes. Frames that lack such a cultural match should be less successful
because they will have insufficient appeal to generate political mobilization by citizens and/or will fail to connect with elite decision-makers directly. Unfit frames are
easier to recognize in the extreme. Movements that adopt anarchist, anti-capitalist
rhetoric in the United States, for example, are less likely to succeed than those that
tie their arguments to religious values.
High value fit and low costs together are the most likely cases for successful
framing, cases of cheap moral action. Other casesFnamely ones where both costs and
value fit are highFare cases of costly moral action. These are harder cases for successful framing and require integration of another factorFsupportive policy gatekeepers.
Policy Gatekeepers
A country’s institutional context mediates between the issue’s emergence and ultimate policy outcomes, privileging some elites as they interpret the costs and values
at stake. From an analytical perspective, we also have to ask, ‘‘who decides?’’ Policy
gatekeepers are influential actors with sufficient power to block or at least delay
policy change. Gatekeepers analysis is based on veto players theory but focuses
more on the individuals empowered by their institutional position.11 Where there
are many veto players, policy stasis becomes more likely (Tsebelis 2002:25). This
establishes a higher bar for frame success as more views make it harder to please
everyone. Where the literature on domestic structure relied on ideal types, veto
players analysis provides a numerical index by which we can order states, potentially facilitating large-N analysis. Another advantage is a better representation of
institutional configurations in advanced industrialized countries. For example, in
the literature on domestic structure, the United Kingdom is classified as ‘‘liberal,’’
meaning that political pressure is the most likely mechanism of policy change (Risse-Kappen 1991; Checkel 1999:88; Checkel 2001). However, in veto players analysis, the U.K. possesses few gatekeepers, making it more like statist regimes where
the influence of a few individuals is important, where their beliefs and learning
matter most. To identify whether or not gatekeepers are supportive, we ideally
need to know their number and their preferences. Given that gatekeepers’ preferences on a given issue area may be unknown in advance, the number of veto
players serves as a first cut to understand the context. Large-N studies of veto
11 Veto players theory is rooted in comparative politics but has been increasingly incorporated into international
political economy (Vreeland 2004; Mansfield, Milner and Pevehouse 2005).
254 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
players often focus on institutional actors accorded influence under a country’s
constitution (this gets at the influence of the legislative and judicial branches) and
partisan actors (this gets at the influence of political parties in divided or coalition
governments) (Tsebelis 2002). Others also look to dispersion of authority, taking
into account federal structures and the use of referenda (Huber and Stephens
2001:55–56). Figure 2 provides one measure of veto players. The average in 1996
for 23 OECD countries was 1.78.12 The United States is clearly an outlier with many
veto players.
However, this measure may not be sufficiently fine-grained. The datasets do not
capture actors with issue-specific blocking power, namely bureaucratic actors with
delegated responsibility or legislative actors with committee oversight over spending, or societal actors with informal influence (Tsebelis 2002:81). For many international issues (especially security issues), the number of veto players is truncated
so the judiciary or sub-national units included in some datasets are not likely to be
relevant. For treaties, countries have different rules, like the U. S. system where a
two-thirds Senate majority is required for advice and consent. On debt relief, we
would expect these kinds of gatekeepers based on functional delegation. In the
U.K., for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the dominant gatekeeper
with the power to approve and fund policy relatively unencumbered by parliamentary or bureaucratic obstacles.13 The number of issue-specific gatekeepers may
vary idiosyncratically depending upon the interest and stature of individuals. For
example, Larry Summers wielded more influence as U.S. Treasury Secretary than
his successor Paul O’Neill. With more gatekeepers, advocates will have a harder
time convincing all of them. In those instances, their arguments will have to be
finely tuned to the specific interests and values of the veto players, either appeals to
their principled beliefs about right and wrong or their causal beliefs about the effects
of different policies (Goldstein and Keohane 1993:8–9). Given such pluralism, political pressure is likely to be a more important part of policy change for issues with
many gatekeepers.
Background on the Empirical Case
Debt relief for poor countries emerged as an issue in the wake of the oil price hikes
of the 1970s. However, external debt problems of the poorest countries initially
took a back seat to those of middle-income countries. After the Mexican government defaulted on its foreign debt in 1982, decision-makers in Western industrialized countries feared that the large exposure by private banks like Citicorp and
Bank of America to middle-income countries’ debts could potentially contribute to
a meltdown in the international financial system (Lipson 1981). The U.S. government, most notably through the 1989 Brady Plan, moved to corral private creditors
into an agreement that would ease middle-income country debt burdens and
1 234 5 6 7
UK, Japan,
Canada US
Low High
FIG. 2. Veto Players in the G-7
12 Data from Armingeon, Leimgruber, Beyeler and Menegale (2005). This is an additive index of five measures
of constitutional structure including federalism, presidentialism, bicameralism, proportional representation, and use
of referenda. For alternative measures, contact the author. 13 Given U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s support for debt relief, gatekeepers analysis reveals
that the Jubilee 2000 campaign was needed least where it was strongest.
prevent broader financial system instability. Concurrently, the Paris Club also began
to address external debts of the poorest countries.14 However, where commercial
banks had been the dominant creditors for middle-income countries, multilateral
and bilateral institutions held most of poor countries’ debt. As few of these countries
had much access to international financial markets, dealing with poor country debts
primarily had implications for the financial integrity of the multilateral lending
institutions and the budgets of creditor governments.15 Beginning in 1988 with the
Toronto Terms, the major creditor countries began to offer poor countries limited
bilateral debt relief by way of new loans to continue payments on old loans.16
In October 1996, after years of rolling over poor country debts and providing
modest debt reduction, several developed countries, the World Bank, and the IMF
decided upon a joint approach for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (hereafter
HIPC I).17 HIPC I incrementally increased bilateral debt reduction and broke new
ground with respect to multilateral debt with the creation of a Trust Fund to pay for
multilateral debt relief. HIPC also increased the level of possible bilateral debt
reduction. Countries deemed eligible for debt relief reached a ‘‘decision point,’’
and if they followed sound macroeconomic policies for several years while enjoying
reduced debt payments in the interim, they would reach a ‘‘completion point’’ and
be eligible for actual reduction of debt stock.
HIPC I, despite some influence by Oxfam and other development charities, was
primarily a top-down affair. While advocates played a background role, the real
change agents in this story were Kenneth Clarke, Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the World Bank’s James Wolfensohn (Mallaby 2004). The main obstacle to HIPC I was the fear of ‘‘moral hazard,’’ that definitively writing off poor
country debts would reward bad behavior and encourage states to accumulate
unsustainable debt burdens again (Easterly 2001). These fears were partially undercut by the recognition that these debts were unlikely to be paid back anyway, so
clearing the books of bad debt was simply good accounting (Summers 2000).
Moreover, economists also suggested that developing countries could experience
problems of ‘‘debt overhang,’’ where the existing stock of debt obligations was so
large that private actors had a disincentive to invest in the economy, as productive
investment would likely be taxed to pay off external debt obligations (Krugman
1988). At the very least, these arguments legitimated the idea that broader debt
relief could potentially work.
While the story of HIPC I is largely top-down, the same cannot be said for the
subject of this article, the expansion of HIPC that took place at the 1999 Cologne
G-8 summit (hereafter HIPC II). Just as creditors finally reached agreement on a
program to partially write off multilateral debt, NGOs were gearing up their own
campaign to pursue more wide-ranging debt forgiveness in time for the new millennium. Jubilee 2000, with its explicit connection to religious traditions and the
14 The Paris Club is an informal group of creditor governments, established in 1956 with a permanent secretariat in the French Treasury to coordinate policies among bilateral creditors. 15 In 1997, HIPC countries owed $201 billion, $174 billion in long-term debt, and $27 billion in short-term debt.
Of the long-term debt, $170 billion was public and publicly guaranteed. Within that total, $148 billion was owed to
official creditors ($64 billion to the multilaterals and $84 billion in bilateral aid) and $21 billion to private creditors.
Only $4 billion of the total was private nonguaranteed debt (World Bank 1999a). 16 Programs evolved from ‘‘Toronto terms of 33% reduction of eligible debt payments in 1988, to Naples terms
of 50–67% reduction in 1994, to HIPC terms of up to 80% in 1997’’ (Schuerch 1999). 17 Forty-one countries were initially listed as HIPCs: 34 in Africa, four in Latin America, three in Asia, and one in
the Middle East (World Bank, Undated-b). Eligibility is based on threshold indicators beyond which a country’s
external debt is deemed ‘‘unsustainable:’’ the net present value (NPV) of its debt to export ratio, the NPV debt-torevenue, and the export to GDP and revenue/GDP ratios. Debt relief is conditional upon good policy making, both
macroeconomic and poverty reduction. The original list of potential HIPCs included 32 countries that had a 1993
GNP per capita of US$695 or less and a 1993 NPV debt/exports ratio higher than 220% or an NPV debt/GNP ratio
higher than 80%. Nine others were included because they were eligible for Paris Club concessional lending (IMF
256 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
coming of the new millennium, represented a ‘‘rebranding’’ of the debt campaigns
that had been around for a number of years, according to Jamie Drummond,
Jubilee 2000’s former Global Strategist (Drummond 2001). Before 1994, campaigners had tried without much success to draw attention to the debt issue along with
IMF- and World Bank-administered structural adjustment programs. Jubilee 2000’s
primary complaint about HIPC I was that it was not fast, broad or deep enough and
was insufficiently attentive to basic human needs (Jubilee 2000, Undated-b).
As advocates clamored for additional debt relief, HIPC’s original champion, Jim
Wolfensohn, cooled to the idea, in part because it was not his (Mallaby 2004:250).
Campaigners hastened awareness of the limitations of HIPC I. With debt relief
under HIPC proceeding slowly, a focal point for the campaign became the G-8
Summit in Birmingham, England, in May 1998 when 50,000 campaigners ringed
the summit in a human chain. The campaigners later met in Rome in November
1998 where they designed a loosely affiliated coalition of autonomous national
campaigns.18 In January 1999, the Pope announced his support for debt relief.
Activists meanwhile conducted high profile events with celebrities, including mass
concerts, rallies, and other attention-getting actions. By July 1998, still only one
countryFUgandaFhad reached the completion point.
Before the G-8 Summit in Germany in mid-1999, the United Kingdom, the
United States, and Canada led efforts to enhance HIPC. In late 1998, newly elected
Gerhard Schroeder signaled a softening in Germany’s long-standing reluctance.
Pressure mounted on Italy, France, and Japan to be more supportive. In March
1999, President Clinton announced a plan that established the contours for what
would come out of Cologne, including front-loaded relief, increasing bilateral debt
relief to 90%, and additional multi-lateral financing (Clinton 1999). The plan also
linked debt relief to Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, which guaranteed that
savings would be invested in education, health, and other worthy expenditures.
With 30,000 protesters ringing the summit, G-7 countries in Cologne in June 1999
announced the expansion of HIPC, promising about $27 billion in new debt reduction in net present value terms, on top of debt relief that HIPC countries were
eligible for under traditional mechanisms.19
Cologne partly involved bargaining by creditors on how much each would contribute to the HIPC Trust Fund and how much bilateral debt relief they would
support. The U.S. contribution was $920 million spread out over 3 years, of which
$600 million was to be dedicated to the Trust Fund. However, this was contingent
upon Congress appropriating the funds and authorizing the sale or revaluation of
IMF gold (Hart 2001). The $600 million was roughly equivalent to the EU’s
pledged contribution and three times that of Japan. In September 1999, President
Clinton announced the United States would write off 100% of bilateral debts, followed soon by the other main creditors. U.S. funding remained in doubt until
October 2000 when Congress finally appropriated $435 million for the U.S.’s initial
commitments to the HIPC Trust Fund and bilateral relief.
Through 2000, campaigners complained that the pace of debt relief was too slow
and that few countries were being processed ( Jubilee 2000, 2000). Continued
pressure sped things up. By December 2000, 22 countries had reached the decision
point and Uganda reached its completion point (World Bank 2001). Even though
the Jubilee year ended, a successor campaign, Jubilee þ was created to monitor the
pace and breadth of implementation with calls for an independent arbitrator to take
charge. Finance ministries, for their part, feared haste would compromise the
18 Supporters minimally agreed there should be a (1) one-off debt cancellation (2) of the poorest countries’
unpayable debts (3) by the end of the year 2000 through (4) a fair and transparent process. 19 HIPC II also lowered the threshold of what were deemed sustainable debt targets including: a debt-to-export
ratio of 150% down from 200% to 250%, a debt-to-revenue ratio of 250% down from 280%, and the export/GDP and
revenue/GDP thresholds to 30% and 15% (World Bank 1999b).
quality of debt relief. As a result of depressed commodity prices, rich countries
pledged in June 2002 an additional $1 billion to ‘‘top-up’’ the Trust Fund. By
August 2005, 18 countries had reached the completion point and had $22.1 billion
in net present value of their debts written off; another 10 had reached the decision
point and were eligible for nearly $11 billion in net present value of debt relief if
they maintained sound policies.20 After the Jubilee year, many campaigners
thought they had pushed the debt agenda as far it could go and initially turned to
new issues like AIDS and trade. However, dissatisfaction with the pace of implementation fed renewed calls for debt relief, led by aggressive efforts by the United
Kingdom and bolstered by a high-profile public campaign. In summer 2005, these
efforts yielded the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), a commitment by the
G-8 and the IFIs to write off all of the remaining debts owed by HIPC countries to
the World Bank, IMF, and the African Development Bank. Partly contingent upon
financing and the eligibility criteria of poor countries, MDRI potentially means debt
relief on the order of $57.5 billion.21
While the 2005 decision to write off most multilateral debts is historic, this article
seeks to explain (1) donors’ decisions to support enhanced debt relief at Cologne
and (2) compliance patterns thereafter. For most of the G-7, the first decision was
the significant one. Once the country’s gatekeepers decided to support enhanced
relief, compliance with 100% bilateral relief and their Trust Fund pledges were
largely foregone conclusions. For countries with more gatekeepers, the U.S. in
particular, the Cologne commitment and the pledge of 100% bilateral relief were
symbolic but depended upon home appropriations. Since all of the G-7 agreed to
the Cologne deal, we can track variation in behavior by looking at (1) the timing of
support for 100% bilateral relief, (2) the size of the initial financial pledges donors
made to the HIPC Trust Fund, and (3) how long it took them to come through on
those pledges. What are these patterns? Support for 100% bilateral relief began
with the U.S. in September 1999. The U.K. followed in December 1999, then Italy
in February 2000, Canada in March 2000, with Germany, France, and Japan, the
three most reluctant of the G-7, not announcing their support until April 2000
( Jubilee 2000, Undated-a). As for pledges to the Trust Fund, Canada, Italy, the
United Kingdom, and the United States made pledges larger than their country’s
share of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). French, German, and Japanese
pledges are less generous by this measure (Table 1). When we include EU pledges
to the Trust Fund, French and German support for the Trust Fund looks larger.
TABLE 1. Pledges and Shares to the HIPC Trust Fund
Dollars in Millions Canada France Germany Italy Japan U.K. U.S.
Non EU-Pledges $102 $21 $72 $70 $200 $221 $600
w/EU pledges $102 $199 $252 $162 $200 $316 $600
% World economy 2.15% 4.74% 6.99% 3.85% 14.55% 4.77% 30.16%
% Non-EU pledges 5.97% 1.23% 4.21% 4.10% 11.70% 12.93% 35.11%
% w/EU pledges 4.18% 8.15% 10.32% 6.63% 8.19% 12.93% 25.56%
20 (World Bank 2006). The eighteen HIPC completion point countries included: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso,
Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda,
Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. In 2006, Cameroon, Malawi, and Sierra Leone became the nineteenth,
twentieth, and twenty-first countries to reach the completion point. Sa˜o Tome´ and Prı´ncipe became the twentysecond in March 2007. 21 HIPC debt holdings by the multilaterals in 2005 included, $42.5 billion from the World Bank, $5 billion from
the IMF, and $10 billion from the ADB (Development Committee 2005). In 2006, four countries were deemed
potentially HIPC eligible including Eritrea, Haiti, Kyrgyz Republic, and Nepal. The Inter-American Development
Bank joined the other multilaterals by voting in March 2007 to write off $4.4 billion of debts of Bolivia, Guyana,
Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
258 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
In terms of time to compliance with their pledges (Figure 3), Canada is an outlier,
completing its pledge very early. France waited nearly 3 years to make any contribution while the United States took 2 years to make its first contribution. The
Germans, Italians, Japanese, and the British made early contributions but in some
cases took longer than even France and the United States to reach 100% of the
pledges to the Trust Fund.22
A Partial ExplanationFMaterial Interest
Before turning to my main argument, I provide a partial explanation of these
patterns based on material interest and suggest its merits and limitations. Arguments based on material interest (MI) focus on the costs and benefits of debt relief.
Two variants potentially explain outcomes. The firstFwhat we can call state interestFdraws on neorealist and neoliberal theories that see the state as a unitary actor
responding to systemic material constraints. States should support debt relief and
comply with their commitments when the benefits exceed the costs. This variant
would discount the influence of advocates. Policy change from this perspective
would be a product of two causal mechanisms, either: (1) simple adaptive learning
(that creditors’ interests would be better served by debt relief) or (2) coercion/
inducement by other states (that raise the costs of non-action). Delays in policy
change could be explained as a product of collective action problems of policy
coordination (Olson 1965). A second variantFindividual interestFsees state behavior through decision-makers’ incentives for political survival (Bueno de Mesquita,
Smith, Siverson and Morrow 2003). In this view, politicians support policy change
when it is (1) politically advantageous or (2) politically costly to fail to do so. This
pluralist account is familiar. Research that incorporates domestic structure argues
that liberal politiesFlike the U.S.Fare typically moved by bottoms-up pressure. A
movement’s relative political strengthFas measured by membership, resources, protests, and its ability to leverage coercive influences, domestic and foreignFwould
determine its success or failure.23
In 1996, when the HIPC initiative was created, creditors recognized additional
debt relief was warranted. At the same time, they wanted to retain elements of
conditionality to prevent debtors from returning to bad practices. Jubilee 2000, by
contrast, wanted complete and unconditional debt relief. While some individuals in
creditor countries were supportive of additional debt reduction beyond HIPC I,
states like Japan and Germany and important players within other creditor
United Kingdom
United States
FIG. 3. G-7 Disbursements to the HIPC Trust Fund
22 The Germans, Italians, and Japanese met 100% of their pledges by February 2004, September 2002, and
September 2003, respectively, while France and the United States met theirs by January 2003. The U.K.’s apparent
lag in Trust Fund contributions is explained by legislation that prevents funds from being disbursed without an
assurance that they can be spent within three months (Jenns 2006). The figure does not include other U.K.
contributions to the Trust Fund for Ugandan debt relief. Data on pledges and disbursement to the Trust Fund come
from periodic HIPC Status of Implementation reports (World Bank, Undated-a). Economic data on the G-7 come from
the World Economic Outlook (IMF 2005). 23 ‘‘Mobilizing resources’’ in the social movement literature (McAdam, McCarthy and Zald 1996).
countries did not think that expanding HIPC was a good idea. Indeed, HIPC I did
not have much time to be implemented so revisiting the agreement was not the
highest priority from a state interest perspective. What about the costs and benefits of
debt relief? As depicted in Table 2, the main creditorsFthe G-7Fhad different
levels of bilateral (country-to-country) debts. They also made different promises to
underwrite debt relief for money owed to multilateral financial institutions (with
the Europeans double-giving through the EU). Donors also had different accounting rules that affected their actual costs of debt relief (some already having provisioned for bad debts).24
The patterns here provide some support for MI. Some states, namely, Japan,
Italy, and Germany (before the Schroeder era) were strongly against debt relief,
and other creditors had to make repeated attempts to get them to change their
policies. Given that the laggardsFFrance and JapanFhad the largest outstanding
bilateral debt, their initial opposition to debt relief seems consistent with MI. Since
Britain and CanadaFthe leadersFwere the smallest holders of bilateral debts, one
could also explain their enthusiasm accordingly. The timing of Italian and German
support for debt relief (i.e., following the leaders) is also consistent with their debt
holdings. However, the compliance patterns are less clear. While the costs of debt
relief for the United States were small, it took a long time to fulfill its pledge to the
HIPC Trust Fund. Japan faced high costs of debt relief, but it began to comply with
its commitments faster than either France or the United States.
Like debt levels, coordination problems over burden sharing also provide a partial
answer for why getting an agreement proved difficult. If creditors want to give poor
countries a fresh start, not only must multilateral debt be forgiven, but each bilateral
member has to be convinced to write off its debt. However, if the United States, for
example, wrote off its bilateral debt, then other donors might be more likely to be
repaid at its expense.25 In the absence of a coordinating mechanism, no country will
have an incentive to forgive its debts unilaterally. While one might expect that international financial institutions (IFIs) can help resolve these collective action problems, the IFIs have their own disincentives to cooperate. The IFIs fear moral hazard,
and the loans from multilaterals are spread among them. Being the first to forgive
debt would mean other creditors would more likely be paid off. Ultimately, the IFIs
depend upon member governments for support so these institutions become forums
for those distributional battles. Serieux and Samy argue the insignificance of poor
debtors for international financial stability, coupled with coordination problems, delayed the response and created the need for a movement to break the impasse
(Serieux and Samy 2003:4). Debt levels suggest why some states were more enthusiastic than others, and coordination problems help us understand the delay. Neither,
however, explains why a new agreement was reached in 1999.
Individual interest arguments offer another possible mechanism. In this view,
campaigners made it politically costly for actors to ignore their concerns. Indeed,
one cynical version of this argument suggests promises of debt relief provided
TABLE 2. G-7 Debt Holdings Circa 1998–1999
Dollars in Millions Canada France Germany Italy Japan U.K. U.S.
Bilateral claimF40 countries $711 $13,033 $6,586 $4,311 $11,200 $3,092 $6,210
As % of GDP 0.1% 0.9% 0.3% 0.4% 0.3% 0.2% 0.08%
As % of G-7 claims 1.57% 28.9% 14.6% 9.5% 24.8% 6.8% 13.8%
24 (GAO 2000). Japanese and French costs were about $8 billion each as neither had done much provisioning for
bad debts. U.S. costs were about $3.7 billion due to provisioning for bad loans. Costs for HIPC have risen with the
inclusion of new debtors and topping up to account for commodity price shocks. 25 This idea of Paul Krugman’s is related to commercial debt in Crook (1991).
260 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
politicians with cheap public relations gains. Leaders have either failed to
implement debt relief or have used it as a substitute for other forms of foreign
assistance (Arslanalp and Henry 2006). As the empirical section demonstrates, lobbying by campaigners is one of the mechanisms that put this issue on the agenda.
However, the G-8 protests aside, the campaign was only able to bring modest
pressure to bear in different national contexts. In the United States, for example,
the national rally campaigners organized in April 2000 was attended by 6,000
people, hardly comparable with the hundreds of thousands that participate in
marches against hot-button issues like abortion. While celebrity participation enhanced the visibility of the campaign, Bono himself acknowledged, ‘‘. . . in the
United States, Jubilee 2000 had been a lot slower to catch on. We were running out
of time to grow the grassroots. I had to go straight to the decision-makers . . .’’
(Bono and Assayas 2005:89). Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers made a
similar observation, ‘‘We could have not done it, and it wouldn’t have been a
political disaster’’ (Summers 2004).
As for the claim that debt relief represents public relations window-dressing, as of
March 2007, 22 countries have reached the HIPC ‘‘completion point’’ and are thus
eligible for more than $24.5 billion in debt stock reduction. The World Bank estimated that the ratio of debt service to government revenue for HIPC countries
has fallen from 23.5% in 1998–1999 to 11.7% in 2005, which has freed up resources
for investments in health, education, and other sectors (World Bank 2006:28).
Moreover, contrary to claims of aid substitution, G-7 donors, in the period 1999–
2004, collectively increased their nondebt relief foreign assistance to HIPCs by
37%.26 Thus, while both state and individual interest arguments provide a partial
understanding of donors’ willingness to support debt relief, an expanded agreement on debt in 1999 was not inevitable nor was the emergence of Jubilee 2000
structurally determined. An analysis that failed to reflect advocates’ efforts, including their moral claims, would tell us little about how states and key leaders came to
support expanded debt relief in HIPC II.
A More Complete ExplanationFStrategic Framing/Policy Gatekeepers
What value-added does a strategic framing/gatekeepers argument have? There are
four observable implications. While acknowledging advocates are (1) most likely to
succeed when there are low costs, cultural match, and supportive gatekeepers, a
strategic framing argument would also recognize (2) possibilities for costly moral
action where gatekeepers believe the values at stake are important. Where there are
many gatekeepers, (3) advocates will have to make more arguments to bring them
all on board. Finally, we should (4) not be able to identify clear overwhelming
material pressures supporting the decision. If we observe such pressures, it would
be impossible to detect if framing matters. To lay bare differences between strategic
framing and MI, we can look at the intersection of costs and values in a two-by-two
matrix and then look for indicators of costs and values to map the country cases.
Policy solutions attached to frames can have high or low costs. A frame may have
high or low fit with a country’s values. Table 3 allows us to classify cases and make
predictions about which dynamics ought to predominate.
In Cell 1, the policy is not costly to support and the frame is consistent with the
country’s values. These are cases of ‘‘cheap moral action.’’ Cell 1 represents the
most likely cases for successful framing. These are cases where MI would also
predict states will embrace a new policy. Cells 2 and 3 depend on the position of
policy gatekeepers. In Cell 3, low value-fit and low costs should make a state
26 Large increases in U.S. aid largely drove this result. The United Kingdom and Canada also increased their aid
while the other donors had flat or slight decreases in their nondebt relief foreign aid (OECD 2006).
‘‘indifferent’’ to accepting the new policy. Because the stakes are low, interested
policy-makers may support a policy in the absence of compelling material or moral
reasons. In Cell 2, costs and values are misaligned. While values are supportive,
short-run costs are not. MI would generally say cost concerns should trump values,
unless coercion alters the cost/benefit calculus or long-run benefits clearly warrant
short-run pain (Axelrod 1984). Strategic framing recognizes there may be casesFas
in the British position against the slave tradeFof states engaging in what Kaufmann and Pape call ‘‘costly moral action’’ (Kaufmann and Pape 1999). Under what
conditions might states engage in costly moral action, Cell 2? Here, the role of policy
gatekeepers becomes critical. If the country’s gatekeepers believe the values at stake
are important enough, then opposition due to high costs may be overcome. Where
there are many gatekeepers, it will prove difficult to satisfy them all simultaneously.
Whether gatekeepers are supportive depends on their own assessment of the relative importance of costs and fit with their values. These are critical, tough cases for
strategic framing as MI makes a different prediction. Finally, in Cell 4, there are
high costs, but the way the issue has been framed does not resonate with the
country’s culture. Therefore, we should observe that a materialist calculus dominates and thus ‘‘hostility’’ best describes the probable country position. The country will oppose the policy unless countervailing power coerces them or the issue is
reframed to appeal to a different set of values to move the issue from Cell 4 to Cell 2.
Before fully integrating an analysis of gatekeepers, Table 3 can serve heuristic
purposes for case selection and prediction. By documenting potential costs and the
frame’s value fit, country cases can be mapped in a two-dimensional space. Tracking
costs and values is complex. There are a variety of different potential indicators that
could be used, and defining thresholds between high and low is tricky. The
previous sections presented some indicators of costs. As Tables 1 and 2 showed, G-7
countries varied in their bilateral debt holdings and their pledges to the HIPC
Trust Fund. They also vary in the size of their economies, so debt write-off for one
might be a lot in aggregate terms but a small percentage of GDP. As a percent of
GDP, even the extreme cases are modest (0.9% France, 0.3% Japan). However,
setting these costs against the backdrop of GDP may be misleading. Judgments of
relative costs tend to be domain-specific. Leaving aside the costs of multilateral
relief, some countries potentially bore more of the burden of bilateral relief. Even if
total costs are modest, donors are likely to be sensitive that their own country is
bearing a disproportionate share of the costs. Japan and France, for example,
accounted for more than 53% of the total G-7 holdings. Moreover, debt relief
potentially competed with other foreign assistance programs for funds. Thus,
bureaucratic actors charged with development assistance could have had a large
portion of their budget precommitted, limiting discretion for other purposes.
Finally, the monetary costs of debt relief might pale in comparison with the political
TABLE 3. Matrix of Costs and Values
Values Low Costs High Costs
High fit Low costs, high fit
Cheap moral action
Values win (1)
High costs, high fit
Costly moral action
Gatekeepers (2)
Low fit Low costs, low fit
Gatekeepers (3)
High costs, low fit
Costs Win (4)
262 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
costs. Foreign aid, for example, is a small part of the U.S. budget, yet it can be
politically costly to support.27
As for values, there are a number of different ways to get at this question. The
debt relief effort in 2000 was primarily framed in religious terms. Thus, one way to
assess the potential cultural resonance of the frame is to look at attitudes toward
religion. As values are supposed to be relatively long lived, I look at average religiosity across the four waves of data from the World Values Survey dating back to
the 1980s.28 The higher the religiosity, the greater the likelihood the public can be
mobilized on that basis. As Table 4 shows, the United States, Italy, and Canada are
more religious than other G-7 countries. East Germany, having recently emerged
from communism, is much less religious than West Germany. The Japanese are the
least religious (and have a different tradition) which helps explain the country’s
initial reluctance to support debt relief. Like Japan, France never developed a
strong debt movement, perhaps linked to its anticlerical past.
What does the mapping of costs and values reveal? In Figure 4, the G-7 share of
bilateral debts and religiosity scores are plotted in two-dimensional space. Anything
above 50% religiosity is coded as ‘‘high’’ value fit with the religious frame.29 The
threshold for ‘‘high’’ costs is defined as anything above the mean share of bilateral
debts (14.3%). This threshold is based on how decision-makers thought about the
problem, in terms of the domain (‘‘as foreign aid, was this costly?’’) and in terms of
the relative costs (‘‘who bears the burden?’’). Looking at relative G-7 debt holdings
is useful because it gets at the differences in the potential political costs of supporting debt relief. The precise threshold between high and low costs may be less
important than the general patterns observed.
On this representation, four cases (Canada, Italy, the United States, and the
United Kingdom) were cases of cheap moral action in Cell 1. Two cases, France and
Japan, were cases of hostility, of high costs and low value-fit. One country, Germany,
was a case of costly moral action, with both high costs and high value-fit.
TABLE 4. G-7 Measures of Religiosity
% Canada France Germany Italy Japan U.K. U.S.
Are you religious? 73.37 49.97 W 63.68 E 31.27 84.63 26.02 51.5 82.5
US Italy
0.00% 10.00% 20.00% 30.00% 40.00%
FIG. 4. Mapping of Bilateral Debt Burdens and Religiosity
27 Larry Summers thought $435 million for debt relief in 2000 was ‘‘a big amount,’’ noting that many foreign aid
expenditures start out in the $20 million range (Summers 2004). 28 People were asked ‘‘are you religious?’’ (Inglehart 2005). The four waves of surveys were taken in 1981, 1990–
1991, 1995–1998, and 1999–2001. Except for British attitudes on religion, values were very consistent across waves.
For other indicators, contact the author. 29 The arrow between East and West Germany reflects shared debt holdings but different religiosity.
When we look at the religiosity of most G-7 countries, there is a fount of religious
belief that served the campaign well in even more secular countries like the United
Kingdom. At the G-8 meetings in Birmingham and Cologne, the majority of protesters were from church groups and church-linked charities. Similarly, faith
groups were the main supporters in the United States, where local clergy encouraged members to contact their legislators. The religious symbolism, coupled with
the timing of the new millennium, was such that the campaign was able to attract a
wide swath of support from North and South, left and right. Whereas there was a
tendency for radical elements to bash capitalism as in the 1999 WTO protests in
Seattle, Jubilee 2000 brought on board influential supporters from the entire
ideological spectrum as well as ordinary citizens, what Drummond called ‘‘establishment taxpayers’’ (Drummond 2001). Debts were also rhetorically linked to cuts
in education and health care and, in turn, death, malnourishment, and poverty,
particularly among children. This helped recast the issue from fear of corruption to
one of morality and justice: ‘‘[T]he intellectual argument in favor of debt relief has
largely been wonFfew countries argue any more that relief will by itself create
large moral hazard problems . . .’’ (Beattie 2000). As The Guardian concluded, ‘‘Yes,
Jubilee 2000 had successfully shifted the development agenda from one of charityFof the ‘poor little things they don’t have enough to eat’ varietyFto one of
justice’’ (Apocalyptic in America 1999). The Washington Post’s Sebastian Mallaby
concurred, saying: ‘‘Late last year, during the endgame of the budget fight, the
Republican line was that aid would drain money from Social Security; it was a
choice of ‘Ghana vs. Grandma,’ they exclaimed, ridiculously. But you don’t hear
that so much now’’ (Mallaby 2000).
While Figure 4 provides a representation of cost and values, the role of gatekeepers complicates the so-called easy cases in Cell 1. Table 5 presents predictions
for the likelihood of successful framing when we combine the measure for costs and
values with a dichotomous value for the number of gatekeepers. The third row
combines this with the ‘‘Coercion–Conversion’’ continuum, suggesting that as you
move from left to right, the mechanisms advocates must rely on to induce policy
change can be less coercive. The table also includes measures of veto players from
Figure 2 and demonstrates that the United States and Canadian cases were harder
cases for successful framing because of this institutional dimension.30
The depiction thus far is of costs and values being the most salient points of
division. There may be situations of values versus values or norms clashing with
other norms. Typically, these are situations where international norms face opposing domestic norms. Scholars assessing those cases find international norms succeed when powerful states coerce or socialize weaker ones to accept them
(Ikenberry and Kupchan 1990; Farrell 2001). Another view suggests international
TABLE 5. Costs/Values, Veto Players, and Advocacy Success
Low Likelihood High Likelihood
Hostility þ high veto
( Japan, France)
Hostility þ low veto
Costly moral action þ high
veto (Germany)
Indifference þ high veto
Cheap moral action þ high veto
(U.S., Canada)
Costly moral action þ low veto
Cheap moral action þ low veto
(U.K., Italy)
Indifference þ low veto
Coercion Conversion
30 As the data were based on whole numbers and the OECD average was 1.78, two or more veto players is coded
as ‘‘high.’’
264 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
norms may gain traction after foreign pressure and crises delegitimate domestic
norms and create space for actors to claim the new ideas serve the national interest
(Cortell and Davis 2005). In these explanations, material incentivesFforeign
pressure, self-interest, and local lobbyingFresolve which norms win. Thus, the
material-ideational cleavage of Table 3 is still the best way to capture case dynamics.
However, when two norms that both have domestic support clash and are the
primary source of contention, then this is akin to Cell 2 of costly moral action. In
those instances, which idea wins may not be a product of overwhelming material
incentives but be resolved by gatekeepers. For example, in the case of debt relief,
one could argue that concerns about moral hazard constituted a rival idea to the
normative agenda of Jubilee 2000. The religious appeal of Jubilee 2000 gave debt
relief a plausible cultural match at the societal level in a number of countries, but
debt relief also had to dislodge moral hazard and survive the scrutiny of veto
players. Fortunately for advocates, moral hazard had already been partially delegitimated as an overarching concern, in part by creditors’ initial acceptance of
broader debt relief in 1996, but also as networks of experts provided credible
information that external debts were preventing countries from getting their
finances in order.
Causal Processes in the United States and Japan
We can get leverage on the relationship between costs, values, and gatekeepers by
looking at two creditors in more detailFthe United States and Japan. What justifies
studying them? By looking at an easy case (the United States) and a hard case
(Japan), we can better understand the mechanism by which framing can connect to
ideational currents in different national contexts with distinct institutions and decision-making processes. The United States case is closer to Cell 1, a case of ‘‘cheap
moral action.’’ It is a critical case for strategic framing in that if the causal mechanism does not apply in this easier case, the theory is unlikely to have explanatory
power in harder cases.31 Moreover, when we add in the institutional dimension of
policy gatekeepers, the case looks more puzzling. Jamie McCormick, former committee staff member to Congressman Jim LeachFthe lead sponsor of a House bill
on debt reliefFgot at the political difficulties for debt relief in Congress:
One of the reasons I was so stunned that the whole debt relief initiative took off is
that the campaign seemed to fly in the face of so much the new and more conservative Republican House caucus/leadership stood for. After all, this all came
about shortly after the contract for America, pledges to cut foreign aid, eliminate
the Commerce Department, downsize the State Department . . . (McCormick
The United States was experiencing divided government between Democrats in the
Executive Branch and a Republican-controlled Congress. The president was weakened by scandal. At a time of heightened isolationism, debt relief was one instance
when campaigners were able to induce the United States to support a new multilateral initiative. President Clinton’s difficulties in getting appropriations for debt
relief continued patterns of conflict over foreign policy like the deadlock between
the Clinton administration and Senator Helms over UN funding. For those interested in what it takes to move the world’s most powerful nation, debt relief can shed
light on other areas. The coalition of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans that came together on debt has had a lasting impact on other issues, namely,
HIV/AIDS. The Japanese case is a harder case for framing. The costs of debt relief
were higher for Japan, and the initial religious frame did not enjoy local cultural
31 For a discussion of most likely cases as critical cases, see George and Bennett (2005:121–122).
resonance. However, if we can find support for framing and gatekeepers theory to
be operative in this tough case, we can have more confidence of broader generalizability of the argument.
The United States
For most issues, the U.S. possesses many policy gatekeepers, and debt relief was no
exception. In addition to the president and treasury secretary, a number of Congressional committees and subcommittees also had jurisdiction including House
and Senate Banking (chaired by Jim Leach and Phil Gramm, respectively), a House
Appropriations subcommittee (chaired by Sonny Callahan), a House Banking subcommittee (chaired by Spencer Bachus), Senate Foreign Relations (chaired by Jesse
Helms), and House Budget (chaired by John Kasich).32 The large numbers of
players involved in foreign aid and appropriations complicated the Executive
Branch’s pledges. With more gatekeepers, we would expect that more arguments
would be needed to persuade them and that political pressure would be among the
mechanisms that shifted lawmakers. After Cologne, other countries hesitated fulfilling their commitments as long as the U.S. contribution remained in doubt. On
September 29, 1999 Clinton agreed to cancel 100% of bilateral debts but had yet to
secure funding. Not until October 2000 was Clinton able to secure a $435 million
appropriation, which included the United States’s first (and critical) contribution to
the HIPC Trust Fund. How were the key policy gatekeepersFSummers, Kasich,
Leach, Bachus, Callahan, Helms, and GrammFconvinced to support (or drop
their opposition to) debt relief?
Though interest-based arguments help explain the outcome, they alone are not
determinative. Part of the explanation lies in the actions of advocates who influenced policy-makers through (1) appeals to causal beliefs, (2) appeals to religious
morality, and (3) political pressure. Between 1997 and 2000, debt relief advocacy in
the United States would go from being un-influential to a small, robust movement.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, advocates had pushed debt relief through the Debt
Crisis Network (1985–1990) and a later Debt Action Coalition (1991–1993).
Formed by development NGOs and religious groups, both dissolved in part because activists could not find a suitable ‘‘handle’’ to influence policy-makers (Donnelly, Undated). In April 1997, meetings between British activists and a religious
working group on the IMF/World Bank led to the launch of Jubilee 2000/U.S.A.33
Other elements were the Catholic reform church and the mainline Protestant denominations. Both had strong connections to developing countries through missionary activities.
Because the United States development advocacy sector is smaller than the
United Kingdom, there was no large mass movement to generate political pressure.34 Nonetheless, the religious frame resonated with churchgoers. Members of
Congress began to get mail, phone calls, and visits in their districts in small but
significant numbers. Campaigners like Bono inductively learned the importance of
connecting directly with gatekeepers. Realizing that Clinton’s support would not be
enough, Bono’s guiding questions for lobbying became, ‘‘Who can stop this from
happening?’’ and ‘‘Who’s the Elvis here?’’ (Bono and Assayas 2005:91). Advocates
began to cultivate ties with Republican committee chairs and build support
32 Other executive branch actors with minor influence included the Office of Management and Budget, the
Council of Economic Advisors, and the State Department. 33 The IMF/World Bank Working Group included groups like the 50 Years is Enough, U.S. Network for Global
Economic Justice, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, the Africa Faith and Justice Network, the Columban
Justice and Peace Office among several others. 34 While major charities like CARE are based in the United States, there are few development advocacy organizations, Oxfam U.S.A. and Bread for the World being the most prominent. Newer groups include Bono’s DATA
(Debt Aid Trade Africa). Contact the author for comparative data.
266 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
from unlikely quarters. After the President’s announcement, Bono came to
the United States and made links with the Administration, including Larry
Summers and members of Congress. Bono, through the Shrivers, was introduced
to Arnold Schwarzenegger who counseled him to link up with Republicans such as
Representative John Kasich, chair of the House Budget Committee. Kasich in turn
brokered meetings for Bono with other Republicans including Orrin Hatch, Dennis
Hastert, and Dick Armey (Peterson 2001).
Given the large number of gatekeepers, advocates developed multiple arguments
to appeal to them. Adrian Lovett, former Deputy Director of Jubilee 2000 and later
Campaigns Director for Oxfam, noted that for Treasury officials and those with
more of a focus on technical aspects of finance, one could argue that these were bad
debts that were not going to be repaid. The spiritual idea was another. A third
argument was that America had a chance to change its international image. One of
those arguments typically worked (Lovett 2003).
In March 1999, Clinton’s plan for an enhanced HIPC initiative was announced in
the run up to Cologne. At the same time, U.S. campaigners like Tom Hart, Director
of Government Relations for the Episcopal Church, had formed a lobby group.
They approached Congressman Jim Leach, a moderate Iowa Republican, chair of
the House Banking and Financial Services Committee. Leach agreed to introduce a
debt relief bill, H.R. 1095, on March 11, 1999, just days before Clinton announced
his plan. By approaching a Republican committee chair, campaigners made what
proved to be an excellent tactical move to broaden their base of support. In the
meantime, campaigners, particularly from Bread for the World, had encouraged
members of Congress to co-sponsor the bill. Grassroots efforts by religious groups
in the Midwest and the South made in-roads. One success was Spencer Bachus, an
Alabama Republican known for being a ‘‘conservative’s conservative’’ who became
one of the bill’s strongest supporters (Grunwald 1999). Bachus, as chair of the
House Banking Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy,
could have blocked consideration of the bill. Conservatives like Bachus attracted
attention because it was so unexpected.
Three prominent actorsFLarry Summers, John Kasich, and Jim LeachFwere
all persuaded debt relief was the right thing to do based on technocratic
ideas. While Treasury had concerns debt relief would cut poor countries off from
capital markets, Larry Summers (who succeeded Robert Rubin as Secretary of the
Treasury in June 1999) ultimately recognized those countries were unlikely to be
getting much access. Moreover, in Summers’ view, there was no good reason to
maintain the pretense that these countries were creditworthy. Continuing defensive
lending so countries could payoff old loans with new loans was ‘‘phony.’’ Because
these debts were not going to be paid anyway, this was sound financial practice to
write them off (Summers 2004). Like Summers, John Kasich found this appealing.
According to Scott Hatch, a former GOP leadership staffer and confidante of
Kasich, the Congressman responded because he thought debt relief was a viable
way to free up resources for poor countries to spend on education and health care
(Hatch 2005). Jim Leach’s support was motivated by a similar dynamic. Jamie
McCormick, former staff to Leach’s committee, suggested the Congressman
thought debt relief was the right thing to do, noting that Leach came at the
issue more from a financial perspective than a religious one (McCormick 2005).
However, this argument was not sufficient to generate a majority coalition for debt
The religious case for debt relief had direct appeal to important individual lawmakers and also created some measure of political mobilization that pressured
35 Evidence of this is the 216–211 vote in July 2000 for an amendment that boosted the HIPC Trust Fund
appropriation by $155 million. It passed only with 26 crossover Republican votes including a number of religious
conservativesFAderholt, Bachus, Cubin, Ehlers, English, SmithFNJ, and Wolf.
skeptics. Aside from activists and leaders like Pat Roberston, prominent Congressional RepublicansFSpencer Bachus and Jesse Helms in particularFfound the
religious message compelling.36 Asked about his position, Bachus said, ‘‘This bill is
a gift of life. Jubilee 2000 is a celebration of the 2000th birthday of Christ . . .. What
more appropriate time to give to these poor in celebration of the birth of Jesus, who
gave us life?’’ (McManus 1999). Hart suggested legislators like Bachus were amenable to the message of Jubilee because it came from people with deep roots in local
institutions (Hart 2001). Like Bachus, Helms was moved by his faith. Mark Lagon,
former senior staff to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Helms, suggested the Senator had been reached by Christian conservatives before his meeting
with Bono. That meeting left Helms a ‘‘bit choked up about children in need’’ even
as he insisted that debt relief not end up supporting corruption (Lagon 2005). Why
had not Helms and others experienced this epiphany earlier? Part of the story is
about agency by advocates. The appeal to them on religious grounds had not been
done. Helms’ support was not foreordained, but an appeal based on religious
morality was more likely to succeed in the United States than less religious places,
particularly among lawmakers like Helms who had a record of policy decisions
guided by moral concerns.
How did these gatekeepers then exercise influence over their peers? Hatch
argued that Kasich’s influence was less based on his role as a committee chair
and more informal, that he was able to use ‘‘political muscle’’ and ‘‘personal credibility’’ with his Republican colleagues as a fiscal hawk and solid conservative
to get debt relief through the House (Hatch 2005). Like Kasich, Helms’ influence
on this question was more informal. Lagon said the ‘‘striking thing’’ about Senator
Helms’ support for debt relief was that ‘‘it left people with the idea ‘Oh well, if
Helms thinks this is okay, it must be the right thing to do.’ ’’ It was certainly,
‘‘hard to be outflanked on the right.’’ In Lagon’s view, Helms’ support could
potentially sway up to 25 of the most conservative and purest free-marketeers
in the Senate (Lagon 2005). In sum, their acceptance of new causal and principled
beliefs about the efficacy and legitimacy of debt relief gave their Congressional
allies, who knew little about the issue, the confidence that the measure was worthy
of support.
Gatekeepers that remained opposed to debt reliefFSonny Callahan and Phil
GrammFappear to have been moved by political pressure, lobbying, and shaming.
In the weeks before the October 2000 vote, Pat Robertson asked Texas viewers of
the 700 Club to ‘‘let Senator Gramm know that this is a good initiative’’ (Hoover
2001). Another pressure was a threat of a presidential veto of the budget. Summers
likened the bargaining process over the Omnibus appropriations bill in fall 2000 to
a ‘‘game of chicken.’’ For opponents, the specter of a veto forced them to ask:
did they want to be known for denying education spending just to prevent spending on debt relief? (Summers 2004). Callahan argued that given the ubiquity of
veto threats that he ‘‘never paid much attention to that.’’ He did not object to debt
relief but worried that without ‘‘contingencies’’ states would return to their bad
behavior. He acknowledged the role of lobbying pressure, ‘‘All I did was make a
little fuss over it and I incurred the wrath of the church community worldwide.’’
Callahan suggested he and other members of Congress were ultimately responsive
because they were getting a lot of flak in their districts from the church community.
‘‘I was always swimming upstream,’’ Callahan said, ‘‘but I had a powerful enough
oar to delay’’ the appropriation for foreign operations ‘‘against the will of a majority
of Congress.’’ Realizing supporters had the votes to amend the appropriations bill
on the floor, Callahan let the appropriation for debt relief go forward (Callahan
2005). As Callahan admitted, ‘‘The debt relief issue is now a speeding train.
36 On the broader mobilization of religious conservatives on international issues, see Hertzke (2004).
268 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
We’ve got the pope and every missionary in the world involved in this thing, and
they persuaded just about everyone here that this is the noble thing to do’’ (Kahn
2000). So, while moral reasons motivated many supporters, opponents found
themselves subject to the piety of their peers, evidence that a well-chosen frame can
elicit the semi-coercive pressures of social shaming in the absence of a well-financed
The original religious appeal of Jubilee 2000 lacked local cultural foundations in
Japan, and the costs of debt relief, while a small share of GDP, were much larger
than for other G-7 countries. Thus, Japan represented a case of ‘‘hostility’’ in which
we would not expect advocates to be successful unless Japan was coerced or the
issue was reframed to appeal to a different set of values. Reframing the issue as a
test of Japan’s international contribution proved compelling.
While the Japanese public was generally supportive of foreign aid, the government, particularly in the Finance MinistryFthe dominant gatekeeperFfound debt
relief inimical. Where did these views come from? In the 1980s, the U.S. feared the
Japanese would overtake them as global leaders and pressured the Japanese to
share the leadership burden. Given constitutional restrictions on playing a military
role, the Japanese sought to satisfy these concerns by becoming the biggest provider of foreign assistance, building on their experience in East Asia. As Yasutomo
argued, ‘‘ODA [Overseas Development Assistance] is considered a key to Japan’s
status and survival as an accepted member of the world community’’ (Yasutomo
1995:3–6). By the late 1990s, the international political environment had changed,
with persistent poverty, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, motivating debt forgiveness. Given their own experience in East Asia, the Japanese were very uneasy
with debt relief. They worried that debt relief would damage the ‘‘credit culture’’
and cut developing countries off from access to capital markets. They believed that
their ODA loans had been indispensable tools that built much of the needed infrastructure and contributed to the long-term growth and development of Malaysia, Thailand, Korea, and other Asian countries (Japanese MOFA official 2004).
While Japan signed on to the enhanced debt relief program at Cologne, it remained unenthusiastic about complete bilateral relief. In the lead up to the Okinawa G-8 meetings in July 2000, Japan announced it would accept 100% bilateral
relief.37 Why did Japan change its policies? The argument was recast by activists
and other creditor governments as something Japan could do to be a solid contributor to the international community. As Marc Castellano of the Japanese Economic Institute put it: ‘‘The country’s reputation as a global leader also is on the
line’’ (Castellano 2000). Henry Northover, of the United Kingdom-based Catholic
charity CAFOD, argued that the Japanese were not going to stand out against the
majority within the G-7. His sense was that the Japanese see themselves as responsible members of the international community and were loath to step out
(Northover 2003). This interpretation of Japanese policy is supported by interviews
with Japanese officials. Takehiko Nakao, Director of the Coordination Division in
the Ministry of Finance’s International Bureau, provides an authoritative account.38 Japan, Nakao said, appreciated that other G-7 countries supported debt
relief. If all G-7 countries support an initiative, Japan tends to support them. Nakao
37 Continuing a practice dating back to 1978, Japan initially decided in 2000 that it would reimburse debt service
in the form of grants. In December 2002, the government announced that the Japan Bank of International
Cooperation (JBIC) would cancel all ODA debts of eligible HIPCs by using the bank’s surpluses that had improved
as East Asian countries repaid their loans (Nakao 2004). 38 From 2002 until July 2004, Nakao served as Director of Development Policy and was Japan’s head delegate to
the Paris Club. From 1998–2000, he was Director of International Organizations, charged with oversight of G-7
Summits and the IMF.
said that Japan puts a lot of importance on G-7 summits, the UN General Assembly,
and the OECD. While the United States–Japan bilateral security relationship is
strong, Japan is not a member of NATO. As the country was limited in its ability to
participate in military operations, Japan wanted to be recognized as a good member
and contributor to the international community. To that end, Japan assumed a big
responsibility by contributing to the IMF, the World Bank, and through bilateral
ODA (Nakao 2004).39
Some might ascribe this policy change to coercion. The picture of intransigence and policy movement in the face of international bullying is familiar; the
Japanese word for this is gaiatsu (Schoppa 1993). However, other G-7 creditors
were unlikely to punish the Japanese for failure to support debt relief. Donor
agreements are not legally binding but are recommendations to sovereign governments. An IMF report on free-riding behavior found that ‘‘moral suasion’’ was
the primary tool donors possessed or were willing to use to persuade recalcitrant
creditors (Nankani and Geithner 2003). Schoppa argues that gaiatsu is more likely
to be successful when ‘‘latent support for foreign demands exists outside the privileged elite’’ (Schoppa 1993, 385). External pressure must go through domestic
actors and find bases of support. The religious appeal for debt relief did not resonate in Japan. However, the frameFwhere debt relief was seen as a test of Japan’s
international contributionFtapped into the domestic conversation about ‘‘internationalizing’’ Japan that had been nearly a national ‘‘obsession’’ in the 1980s (Ohta
1995, 247). By the 1990s, polls consistently showed that more than 80% of the
Japanese public thought that ‘‘internationalizing’’ Japan was either ‘‘necessary to
ensure Japan’s future prosperity’’ or appropriate because ‘‘now that Japan has
become a major developed country, it has to become more internationalized’’
(JPOLL, Undated). Reframing debt relief as a diplomatic issue also empowered the
Foreign Ministry in internal bureaucratic debates with the other main gatekeeper,
the Finance Ministry.
In a broader sense, Japan’s national interest could have suffered from
incremental ‘‘reputational’’ damage as an unreliable partner (Simmons 1998).
However, these concerns about national prestige and trying to be good allies and
global citizens are more deeply rooted than a materialist cost-benefit calculation. As
Keohane has argued, normative foundations ultimately underpin support for ‘‘diffuse reciprocity.’’ He noted that ‘‘the actor making a short-run sacrifice does not
know that future benefits will flow from comparable restraint by others, and can
hardly be regarded as making precise calculations of expected utility’’ (Keohane
1982:342). Indeed, Japanese decisions to be reliable cooperators are based on an
embedded idea of material interest that, in a sense, has become an end in itself
(Legro 2005:7).
Concluding Comments
The approach of this articleFtaking the configuration of costs, values, and veto
powersFis widely applicable to other issues politicized by transnational advocacy
groups. The mapping exercise in policy space provides a first-cut approximation of
the likelihood of moral action by states. While there are likely to be issue areas and
situations of such high costs and risks that decision-makers do ignore ideational
factors, the approach can be applied to cases as diverse as climate change, HIV/
AIDS, and the International Criminal Court. Debt relief writ large likely had a
better chance of commanding broader international support than other issues like
climate change because the costs of the entire initiative required less behavioral and
policy change. However, Japanese and Canadian support for the Kyoto Protocol in
the face of high costs provide additional support for the argument that ideational
39 See also Lumsdaine on reputational concerns in Japanese foreign assistance (Lumsdaine 1993).
270 Bono Made Jesse Helms Cry
attachments can offset purely material accounts of short-run interests. Gatekeepers
analysis adds an important layer and gets at the constellation of veto players that
need to be accommodated as advocates try to translate their appeals into policy.
While the mechanism of strategic framing may not be dominant in every successful
case of advocacy, this article establishes testable implications of its scope conditions.
One central finding is that policy gatekeepers are prepared to invest significant,
albeit limited, amounts of resources to support norms-based policies when advocates have tapped into values that have broader societal appeal as well as personal
meaning. Subsequent studies in other issue domains and countries are required to
establish the frequency of such situations.
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