The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 121–146 | Cite as

Speech is silver, silence is golden? Examining state activity in international negotiations

  • Diana Panke


The institutional design of international organizations usually expresses state sovereignty, as each state has the same formal rights and obligations. This includes equal speaking rights in international negotiations. Becoming vocal is a means for states to signal national interests and influence international norms as well as to express their sovereignty. However, an analysis of 520 international negotiations demonstrates that states vary considerably in the usage of speaking rights. To addresses this puzzle, the paper presents an opportunity structure-incentives model and puts its observable implication to a comprehensive empirical test. This reveals that states operating in favourable conditions, most notably in small IOs, and states pursuing a broad scope of interests, being powerful and having strong international identities are most active in international negotiations. By contrast, smaller states that can neither rely on support of regional groups, nor on a government apparatus that effectively develops national positions are least likely to benefit from an equalizing institutional design of an international negotiation arena. Hence, there are limits to the extent to which an equalizing institutional design of IOs and regimes is able to mitigate real world structural differences between states.


International negotiations Negotiation Activity States Capacity Power Opportunity-structures Incentives 



This paper is based on data generated in two research projects: “Unequal Actors in Equalizing Institutions. Negotiations in the United Nations General Assembly” (financially supported by the Irish Research Council) and “Nested Games. Regional Organizations in International Organizations” funded by the German Research Council (PA 1257/3-1). I am are grateful to all diplomats who gave interviews as well as to Marina Ermes, Paulina Grimm, Alena Hahn, Thomas Krebs, Eva Link, Anna Lena Mohrmann, Stephanie Pollhammer, Martin Scharf, Fedor Unterlöhner, and Elliott Bourgeault for research assistance with data coding, data entry, and proofreading. In addition, I would like to thank Stefan Lang and Anke Wiedemann for support in the generation of the data base used in this paper. Finally, I am grateful to the constructive comments of the reviewers and the RIO editorial team.

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Albert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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