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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Convergence in conflict : reassessing vote-based affinity and UN voting strategy through US-North Korea relations Jacinto, Daniel


The standard measure of voting convergence in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has been the Affinity of Nations index—or ‘affinity score’. Scholars have generally taken higher levels of affinity as evidence of interest similarity under the assumption that states’ voting positions reflect their underlying policy preferences. However, while this implies that higher affinity should be correlated with interstate cooperation and that lower affinity should be correlated with interstate conflict, records of interstate relations reveal that states in conflict sometimes experience a counterintuitive increase in affinity. This study re-assesses how we interpret increased voting convergence during periods of conflict. Drawing on literature on political signaling and international organizations, I argue that this phenomenon can be explained by ‘placatory voting’: a purposive use of UN votes to signal benign intentions in periods of tension, as a de-escalation strategy. Using a quantitative analysis of dyadic cooperation scores, I find that patterns consistent with placatory voting—while a minority—are still fairly widespread, with 38.8% of conflict dyads from 1990 to 2004 experiencing increased affinity, and such pattern cases being situated across multiple geographic regions and major international crises. Turning to US-North Korea relations as a primary case study, I also find that while conventional assumptions of affinity fail to consistently explain cycles of conflict and cooperation, placatory voting is both consistent with North Korean foreign policy behaviour and can explain instances of high affinity with the US in 1994, 2002, 2010, and 2016.

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