Scholars have offered numerous explanations for success stories such as the ozone regime but have paid little attention to failed cases, such as the failure to attain agreement on a global forest convention in 1992. Discussions of this case frequently attribute the failure to a prioritization of sovereignty above all other interests on the part of Malaysia and other developing countries. I offer an alternative explanation, based on interview data and documents and reports from the era. Although the US was the first state to propose a global forest convention in 1990 and remained the lead state in negotiations, the benefits of a global forest treaty at the domestic level did not outweigh the potential costs to the US of manipulating the preferences of the anti-convention coalition towards favoring agreement. Use of counter-factual scenarios demonstrates that it was this rather than sovereignty issues that precluded a forest treaty.