The majority of countries around the world are engaged in the foreign aid process, as donors, recipients, or, oftentimes, both. States use foreign aid as a means of pursuing foreign policy objectives. Aid can be withdrawn to create economic hardship or to destabilize an unfriendly or ideologically antagonistic regime. Or, conversely, aid can be provided to bolster and reward a friendly or compliant regime.
Although foreign aid serves several purposes, and not least among them the wish to increase human welfare, the primary reason for aid allocations or aid restrictions is to pursue foreign policy goals. Strategic and commercial interests of donor countries are the driving force behind many aid programs. Not only do target countries respond to the granting of bilateral and multilateral aid as an incentive, but also the threat of aid termination serves as an effective deterrent. Both the granting and the denial of foreign assistance can be a valuable mechanism designed to modify a recipient state’s behavior.
Donors decide which countries will receive aid, the amount of aid provided, the time frame in which aid is given, and the channel of aid delivery. The donor’s intentions and the recipient’s level of governance determine the type or sector of foreign aid. States can choose between bilateral or multilateral methods of disbursing foreign assistance in order to pursue their interests. Although bilateral disbursements allow the donor state to have complete control over the aid donation, the use of multilateral forums has its advantages. Multilateral aid is cheaper, it disperses accountability, and it is often viewed as less politically biased.
Foreign aid, once the exclusive foreign policy instrument of rich powerful states, is now being provided by middle-income countries, too. The motivation for foreign aid allocations by nontraditional donors parallels the motives of traditional Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors. A main difference between traditional and nontraditional aid donors is that nontraditional aid donors generally do not place conditionalities on their loans.
The issue of fungibility can obstruct the donor government’s purpose behind the allocation of foreign aid. If the preferences of the recipient government are different from those of the donor, the recipient can often divert the aid and use it for other purposes. A recipient government may reallocate its budget after it determines how much aid it is slated to receive. The recipient government will redirect its resources to areas it deems a priority that cannot be funded externally, for example the military or prestige projects.
International actors sometimes force targeted states to change their governments, a process known as Foreign-Imposed Regime Change (FIRC). This foreign policy tool serves as a surprisingly active locus for several theoretical debates in international relations and comparative politics. On the international relations side, evaluation of FIRC as a policy tool has implications for the following debates: whether foreign policy decisions are affected by individual leaders or are determined by structural conditions; whether democracies are more peaceful in their relations with other states; how belligerents choose their war aims; what factors make for successful military occupation; what motivates states to go on ideological crusades; whether international actors can successfully install democracy in postconflict settings; determinants of international trade; and others. On the comparative politics side, FIRC speaks to what may be the two most important questions in all of comparative politics: what factors help a state maintain internal order, and what factors help a state make the transition to democracy?
FIRC also plays an absolutely central role in foreign policy debates, especially for the United States. FIRC is arguably responsible for both the greatest success in the history of American foreign policy, the post-1945 pacification of Germany and Japan, and one of the greatest disasters in U.S. foreign policy history, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its catastrophic aftermath. Further, FIRC has played a ubiquitous role in American foreign policy since America’s emergence as a great power, as the United States has frequently used both overt and covert means to impose regime change in other countries, especially in Latin America. FIRC has also been a tool used by other major powers, especially the Soviet Union after 1945 in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Into the second decade of the 21st century FIRC remains a controversial foreign policy tool, as some debate the wisdom of pursuing FIRC in Libya in 2011, and others consider the possibility of pursuing FIRC in countries such as Syria.
FIRC can be discussed as a theoretical phenomenon and as the subject of empirical research, focusing on its nature, causes, and effects. The article contains five sections. The first section discusses the definition and frequency of FIRC. The second section describes the causes of FIRC, why actors sometimes seek to impose regime change on other states. The third section covers the international consequences of FIRC, especially whether FIRC reduces conflict between states. The fourth section addresses the domestic consequences of FIRC, especially whether FIRC is usually followed by stability and/or democracy. The final section concludes.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Henry Kissinger once remarked, “As a professor, I tended to think of history as run by impersonal forces. But when you see it in practice, you see the difference personalities make.” It is common sense that a state’s foreign policy cannot be explained without reference to the beliefs of such leaders as Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, or Kim Jong Un, to name a few. Ironically, however, leaders have mattered little for much of the history of the international relations discipline; structural approaches that focus on the distribution of power, international institutions, and domestic politics have been dominant.
To be sure, scholarship on belief systems has been present since the 1950s. Early key concepts included the decision maker’s “definition of the situation,” the “ecological environment,” and the “attitudinal prism.” This scholarship laid an important foundation, but at that time, it did not generate competitive research programs. Agent-centered approaches remained secondary, and beliefs were viewed as residual variables. They were also considered “unobservable,” difficult to assess and operationalize. Indeed, rigorous methods that would enable the scientific study of belief systems have long remained absent.
Over time, such challenges have been addressed successfully by scholarly advances and by real-world developments. Especially the end of the Cold War, insufficiency of structural theories became evident. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union took a fundamentally new course and gave up power. The dominant structural theories could neither predict nor explain the ensuing events. Scholarly analysts were “caught flat-footed,” as one scholar wrote. What really mattered, it seemed, was that the available theories did not pay much attention to decision-makers’ belief systems.
Of particular relevance in advancing new theories are decision-makers’ operational code beliefs. Along with the general literature on belief systems, the operational code research program began in the 1950s. It gained prominence with the work of Alexander George and Ole Holsti in the 1960s and 1970s. A decision-maker’s operational code is constituted by his answers to questions such as: What is the essential nature of political life? Is the political universe essentially one of harmony or conflict? What is the fundamental character of one’s political opponents? What is the best approach for selecting goals for political action?
The most significant advances in the operational code research program were made in the 1980s and onward by Stephen Walker and his students. This progress occurred on the theoretical, methodological, and empirical plane, and through their work this research program continues to be a mainstay of contemporary international relations scholarship.
Scholarship on the domestic sources of foreign policy has focused on parties, interest groups, and a generalized notion of public opinion, but it has neglected the societal dimension. This is a mistake given the multiethnic and multinational makeup of many of the world’s states. The focus here is on those European states which imagined themselves settled in the aftermath of war, empire, and the Cold War, yet now find themselves surprised by the new challenges of migration and multiculturality—meaning the growth in ethnocultural diversity as a form of everyday life. These states have adopted varying strategies—or none—in order to address the problems which arise, but did not at first realize the extent to which the domestic realm had become inextricably entangled with external relations—whether through the transnational activities of diasporas or through blowback from their own foreign policies in regions of the world where some of their minority communities have intimate connections.
The subject of foreign policy and multicultural societies is thus a new but important one, politically as well as intellectually. To approach it we need both a grounding in foreign policy analysis and an understanding of the debates in political theory and sociology about multiculturalism, given that practitioners have increasingly to face inwards as much as outwards and that the distinction between the external and “homeland” dimensions of security is now blurred. Although the world has not fallen into a simple “clash of civilizations,” the challenges of managing diversity certainly now present themselves in a set of interlinked levels, crossing national boundaries and therefore significantly changing the context of foreign policy and its making.
Why do leaders make foreign policy decisions that often appear irrational or engage in major reversals of previous policy to the extent that observers wonder at their calculations? The field of Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) offers multiple ways to approach questions of decision-making. Many kinds of variables are explored, in the general areas of elites, institutions, and ideas. The focus on leadership and decision-making is especially rich for comparative purposes, because it is open to specification of different contexts within which leaders operate. The poliheuristic theory (PH) and other work emphasizing the importance of the domestic context have provided explanatory power about the factors affecting leader decision-making. Extensive application of PH has shown that decisions about foreign policy are often made according to a noncompensatory principle (the acceptability heuristic): Leaders use a shortcut in which options that threaten their political position are ruled out. Generally, the metric is about domestic politics—an option has to leave the leader in a good position with his or her domestic audience. But much of FPA work has been based largely on case studies of Western or other developed states, or at least not approached in the context of non-Western or Global South states theoretically—in a way that recognizes it as governed by generalizable principles different from the Western context. What we know from scholars of Global South politics is that in fact the considerations of non-Western leaders can be quite distinct. They focus more on regime security than the Western notion of national security. We must question whether position in domestic politics is the primary noncompensatory guide. Further, threats to that security come from both inside and outside the state’s borders and encompass economic concerns too, not only military calculations. In order to comprehend foreign policies around the globe, frameworks have to take into account how leaders conduct “intermestic” policy (where lines are blurred between the international and domestic). For these states, the models for intermestic policymaking differ from Western models.
The analyst needs to understand two aspects: the threats the regime faces and the constituencies the leader sees as crucial to sustaining survival and controlling those threats.
Analysis of how a leader uses a “framing threat” strategy and a “broadening audience” strategy can be used as tools to indicate the two criteria (threats the regime faces; internal/societal groups and external constituencies). By focusing on the analysis of the intermestic uses of threat, we gain insight into the most crucial priorities for the decision-maker and thus how the noncompensatory decision rule is applied. “Acceptable” policies must address these threats. Second, examining how a leader uses the broadening audience strategy shows us on which constituencies the leader calls as supporters and provides an indication of how the noncompensatory decision rule is applied. Indeed, we cannot only ask if the leader has legitimacy; we must answer the query, “legitimate to whom?” These audiences often cross borders. Integration of several FPA perspectives with work by Global South scholars provides a rich framework that sheds light on previously “puzzling” foreign policy decisions. If we keep domestic and foreign policy separate in our models, we are missing a key dimension of LDC politics: Underdevelopment of regime security and the legitimacy that helps provide it are tied to interests and identities that are transnational in nature.
An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning.
Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts.
Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century.
The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous.
Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.
Syria is in tatters. A brutal dictator, vicious terrorist groups, and a raging civil war have led to the death of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions. Given the ongoing Syrian conflict, President Barack Obama’s rather restrained foreign policy toward the Bashar al-Assad regime has been described as “feckless,” “flawed,” and “clueless.” In August 2012, however, President Obama issued a strong warning when he famously said the “red line” for the United States in terms of stepping up a military offensive would be if “we started seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.”
Beginning in 2013, the Damascus regime did utilize chemical weapons against the Syrian people, perhaps most shockingly in August in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. Yet President Obama ultimately held back from intervening militarily, and his decision has since received strong and persistent criticism. After retiring from his post as secretary of defense, Robert Gates judged the president’s decision a “serious mistake.” It allowed the tragedy to continue and American credibility to be hurt. The president himself, however, disagreed. About the decision not to act militarily he said later: “I’m very proud of this moment.” He was convinced that the United States could not successfully affect the situation and that he had kept the country out of another quagmire.
It is indeed the case that good decisions can avoid wars or win them while bad decisions can start wars or lose them, and these consequences are just one reason why the study of foreign policy mistakes is so important. Yet it can, of course, not be the case that an evaluation of foreign policy decisions is rendered to the subjective eyes of the beholder. Instead, what is needed is an objective framework by which to identify and analyze foreign policy mistakes. Foreign policy mistakes are procedural errors concerning the diagnostic or the prescriptive level of the foreign policy decision-making task. They can be mistakes of omission or commission and can occur in regard to a threat or to an opportunity.
Of special importance is the question how foreign policy mistakes can be avoided. This question can be answered through a decision-making framework defined by (a) the level of information a leader can have about a foreign policy challenge and (b) the potential consequences of a decision. Because many, if not most, challenges with respect to questions of international security are “ill-defined,” the myopic strategy of disjointed incrementalism is ideal. It avoids mistakes by making reversible (disjointed) and relatively small (incremental) moves away from the status quo.
In the case of Syria, President Obama followed a strategy of disjointed incrementalism. He could not rely on much certain or reliable information regarding the situation and correctly understood that a military engagement could have potentially very adverse consequences in terms of casualties and a general escalation of the situation. Contrary to often repeated judgments that his decision not to engage militarily was a mistake, it is the case that he indeed avoided a mistake.
David R. Dreyer
Rivalry is pervasive in many areas of life. Though rivalry is not isolated to international politics, interstate rivalries are particularly important given their conflict propensities and destructiveness. Tremendous progress has been made in determining the causes of rivalry initiation, maintenance, escalation, and termination. What we know empirically about rivalry, however, hinges on how the concept of rivalry is defined and which dyads are identified as rivals for which periods of time. Though the what, who, and when questions of rivalry may seem straightforward and the answers to such questions in some cases obvious, defining and identifying rivals has not been without scholarly controversy.
There are several approaches to conceptualizing and operationalizing rivalry. Each approach has strengths and weaknesses. Dispute density approaches, for example, which identify rivals as states that engage in repeated instances of militarized conflict over time, have higher levels of measurement reliability than validity. The strategic rivalry approach, on the other hand, which identifies rivals as states that view one another as threatening competitors and enemies, has a higher level of measurement validity than reliability. Rather than advocating one approach over another, the intent of this article is to lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of different ways of identifying cases of rivalry.
Existing rivalry research provides a foundation from which to further develop rivalry approaches. Given that the concept of rivalry has only recently been applied outside of the dyadic interstate context, additive research is still needed on rivalry in intrastate, triadic and multistate, and other settings. Due to the existence of several mature dyadic interstate rivalry approaches, on the other hand, developing additional distinct approaches for the dyadic interstate context is less imperative than integrating existing approaches. There are several ways this can potentially be done, such as by combining elements of multiple perspectives in ways that minimize weaknesses, through conceptual mapping, or by developing an ordinal measure of rivalry.
Today’s European Union (EU) is based on treaties negotiated and ratified by the member states. They form a kind of “constitution” for the Union. The first three treaties, the Treaty of Paris, creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, and the two Treaties of Rome, creating the European Economic Community (EEC) and European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) in 1957, were the founding treaties. They were subsequently reformed several times by new treaties, including the Treaty of Maastricht, which created the European Union in 1992. The latest major treaty reform was the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force in 2009. Scholarship concerning these treaties has evolved over time. In the early years, it was mostly lawyers writing about the treaties, but soon historians and political scientists also took an interest in these novel constructions in Europe. Interestingly, American political scientists were the first to develop theories of European integration; foremost among these was Ernst Haas, whose 1958 book The Uniting of Europe developed the theory later referred to as neo-functionalism. The sector on integration of coal and steel would have an expansive logic. There would be a process of “spill-over,” which would lead to more integration.
It turned out that integration was less of an automatic process than suggested by Haas and his followers. When integration slowed down in the 1970s, many political scientists lost interest and turned their attention elsewhere. It was only in the 1980s, when the internal market program gave European integration a new momentum that political scientists began studying European integration again from theoretical perspectives. The negotiation and entry into force of the Single European Act (SEA) in the mid-1980s led to many new studies, including by American political scientist Andrew Moravcsik. His study of the SEA included a critique of neo-functionalism that created much debate. Eventually, in an article in the early 1990s, he called his approach “liberal intergovernmentalism.” It took final form in 1998 in the book The Choice for Europe. According to Moravcsik, to understand major historic decisions—including new treaties—we need to focus on national preferences and interstate bargaining.
The study of treaty reforms, from the SEA to the Lisbon Treaty, conducted by political scientists—including the treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice—have often contrasted neo-functionalism and liberal intergovernmentalism. But other approaches and theories were developed, including various institutionalist and social constructivist frameworks. No consensus has emerged, so the scholarly debates continue.
Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham
Civil wars have becoming increasingly complex in the last 50 years, the role of fragmentation in contemporary civil wars needs to be addressed. Two primary dimensions of fractionalization are: (1) fragmented conflict (i.e., those with many different actor) and (2) fragmented actors (i.e., internally divided “sides” of a conflict).
In addition to the two types of fragmentation, there are also various causes of fragmentation. The primary causes of fractionalized conflicts are rooted in the interplay between opposition actors and the government, and among opposition actors. Peace negotiations, accommodation, and the process of war all put stress on opposition actors (and to perhaps a more limited extent, on governments). Lastly, there is a set of conflict-related outcomes and processes that have been linked empirically to fractionalization. These include accommodation of opposition demands, higher rates of violence (against the state and civilians), infighting, duration of conflict, and side-switching.