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date: 17 August 2017

Veto Player Approaches in Foreign Policy Analysis

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

The main contribution of veto player approaches in comparative politics has been to the study of policy stability and change. Specifically, the argument is that the possibility and conditions for policy change in a given polity and issue area depend on the configuration of veto players and veto points. Most notably, veto player approaches have introduced a general conceptual toolkit that has facilitated the comparative analysis of the dynamics and obstacles of policy change across (democratic and non-democratic) regime types and public policy areas. However, in Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA), references to veto players and veto points tend to be hardly systematic and are mainly used to highlight domestic constraints on preference formation, decision-making, or responses to international crises. Hence, the theoretical and empirical potential of veto player approaches for FPA has not yet been systematically explored. Against this background, it is clear that “taking veto players seriously” has much to offer the study of foreign policy. While there are differences between applying veto player approaches in public policy and in FPA (e.g., with respect to the more informal process of foreign policy decision-making or the larger policy discretion of the agenda-setter in foreign policy), those differences must not be overstated. Indeed, they point to certain shifts in emphasis and specific methodological challenges for veto player studies in foreign policy, but do not call into question the basic explanatory logic of veto player approaches or their transferability from one field to the other. Furthermore, it is possible to show that multiple links between veto player approaches and FPA theories can be established. Generally speaking, veto player approaches have immense potential in reinvigorating comparative foreign policy analysis. More specifically, they can be linked to FPA works on the role of parliaments, coalitions, or leadership styles, as well as to those discussing change, effectiveness, or fiascos in foreign policy.