Retributive Support for International Punishment and Torture

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman, “Retributive Support for International Punishment and Torture,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 51, No. 2 (April 2013), 285–306.

Abstract: This article tests the hypothesis that ordinary people favor punishing badly behaved foreign actors to make them “pay” for their crimes rather than purely to protect national security interests. In an undergraduate sample, people’s endorsement of the principle of retributive punishment was related to their support for punishing transgressor states and their support for torturing detainees, controlling for partisanship, ideology, humanitarian and security values, and beliefs about the efficacy of force. The interstate transgression scenarios included a state sponsoring terror attacks against a rival, a nuclear proliferator, and a small, unnamed aggressor. Retributive dispositions were also strongly related to support for the death penalty, which helps explain prior findings that American death penalty supporters are unusually bellicose toward foreign wrongdoers.