Evidence suggests that leaders of democratic states experience high costs from violating past commitments. We argue that because democratic leaders foresee the costs of violation, they are careful to design agreements they expect to have a high probability of fulfilling. This may cause democratic leaders to prefer flexible or limited commitments. We evaluate our argument by analyzing the design of alliance treaties signed by countries of the world between 1815 and 2003. We find that alliances formed among democratic states are more likely to include obligations for future consultation rather than precommitting leaders to active conflict, and defense pacts formed among democratic states are more likely to specify limits to the conditions under which member states must join their partners in conflict. This research suggests that separating screening effects and constraining effects of international agreements is even more difficult than previously believed. States with the greatest likelihood of being constrained are more carefully screened.

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Published in The Journal of Politics, v. 77, no. 4.

© 2015 by the Southern Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

The copyright holder has granted the permission for posting the article here.

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Data and supporting materials necessary to reproduce the numerical results in the paper are available in the JOP Dataverse (https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/jop).

An online appendix with supplementary material is available at https://doi.org/10.1086/682074. It is also available as the additional file listed at the end of this record.