Invitation games and the politics of joining US-led coalition warfare: a small state perspective

Rasmus Brun Pedersen, Yf Reykers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


How do status-seeking governments in small states mobilize parliamentary support for participation in US-led warfare coalitions? We argue that the formulation of official invitations by the United States plays an overlooked instrumental role in the domestic ratification game. Invitations can be a strategic tool for governments confronted with divided parliaments to secure support for contributions close to their position. Building on a modified and reversed version of Schelling’s tying hands strategy, we develop a novel invitation game to explain dynamics in the two-level game between coalition leader, government and parliament where governments tie their hands internationally rather than domestically. By signalling their intentions and strategic commitments to the coalition leader, small state governments can seek to influence the content of the coalition leader’s invitation, which they in turn can present as a take-it-or-leave-it offer to parliament. In this way, governments can raise the perceived abandonment costs to a level that outweighs parliament’s fear of entrapment, making the latter more willing to support a forceful commitment. We illustrate the plausibility of this invitation game model with empirics from Denmark’s past contributions to US-led coalitions, which show that the domestic value of these US invitations has so far been underestimated, even in a case where there exists a strong Atlantic security predisposition. In this way, this paper not only raises attention to the importance of studying how small states decide on costly military contributions, it also shows that understanding domestic contestation of military deployments requires taking into account the strategic importance of international signals.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Relations
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 May 2023


  • coalitions
  • status
  • small states
  • United States
  • parliaments

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