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Foreign Policy Change

Summary and Keywords

Foreign policy change entails the redirection to a lesser or greater extent of a state’s foreign policy. The parameters that account for such a change can be clustered according to their nature (structural or conjunctural) and origin (domestic or international). Domestic structural parameters comprise the politico-institutional setting within which foreign policy decisions are made and advocacy groups in support of alternative foreign policy options. The focal point of analysis for both is the “authoritative decision unit” that can take the form of a powerful leader (e.g., a monarch, dictator, or a predominant political figure in a democratic system), a single group (e.g., the Politburo in the former Soviet Union, a group of Army officers collectively engaged in a military coup, or Cabinet under a Prime Minister with a collective policy-making style), or a multitude of autonomous actors (e.g., coalition governments and actors with veto power over foreign policy decisions). Whether these units are “open” or “closed” to international pressures and the degree of their insulation from domestic societal pressures are key issues that determine how conducive to change domestic political settings are. Advocacy groups comprise adherents to an alternative political culture, socioeconomic groups with divergent views and interests, and policy entrepreneurs in position to engineer foreign policy change. International structural parameters refer on one hand to systemic changes that may bring about a foreign policy realignment and on the other hand to the country’s role in the international system (e.g., participation in international organizations) that may activate foreign policy changes through socialization processes. Conjunctural parameters, either domestic or international, account for unexpected developments that may upset the existing status quo (e.g., the death or succession of a political leader, unexpected domestic political crises, human disasters and humanitarian crises, and international security or economic crises).

This eclectic list of parameters helps account in a comprehensive way for two cases of major foreign policy realignment. The first deals with the incremental Greek-Turkish rapprochement in the late 1990s. Greece altered its way of approaching the bilateral disputes with Turkey by moving away from its earlier confrontational approach to a more engaging one. This change owed much to domestic political changes (new political leadership as an outcome of the sudden death of Prime Minister A. Papandreou), which led in turn to a reprioritization of the Greek foreign policy objectives related to the accession to the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union. It was further assisted by the participation of Greece in the European Union, which helped put the bilateral Greek–Turkish relationship in the frame of the EU enlargement policy. The second case accounts for the Israeli reorientation in the early 1990s vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. Following the international upheaval after the end of the Cold War, the societal concerns after the Palestinian Intifada, and domestic political changes, the new Israeli political leadership orchestrated the foreign policy change that enabled the signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement.

Keywords: foreign policy analysis, eclectic framework, change, conjunctural parameters, structural parameters, authoritative decision unit, Greece, Israel


In periods of international and geopolitical stability, the foreign policy of states is characterized by continuity rather than change. This was the case by and large in the period of the bipolar rigidity prior to the cataclysmic effects of the end of the Cold War (Holsti, 1982; Rosati et al., 1994). Sporadic occurrences of such change were dealt with on an ad hoc basis with doubts expressed vis-à-vis the generalizability value of these case-specific findings (Gilpin, 1981, pp. 4–6). The fluidity of the post-Cold War environment has drawn attention to this largely neglected field, not least because more case studies emerged as a result of the shifting geopolitical environment. These cases required a more systematic study and new conceptual and analytical tools. A number of academic works have taken on this challenge, broadening our understanding of the causes and mechanisms of foreign policy change: Hermann (1990), Carlsnaes (1993), Skidmore (1994), Grossman (2005), Walsh (2006), Rynhold (2007), Alden and Aran (2012), and Blavoukos and Bourantonis (2014).

These works can be clustered in three groups: (a) inductive “checklist” contributions that identify independent and intervening factors of change with a potential generalization value; (b) studies that emphasize the existing cognitive, structural and policy-making constraints that impede change and need to be overcome, and (c) cyclical models that advocate the study of longer time periods to identify recurrent behavioral patterns that lead to foreign policy change (Gustavsson, 1999, pp. 77–80). Beyond the traditional analytical tools of international relations theories, these works have also expanded the available analytical arsenal by drawing insights from foreign policy analysis and public policy analyses focusing on reforms. The two latter streams converge to the point that different levels of analysis should be studied in parallel, combining individual factors, inputs in the decision-making process, institutional features of the decision-making process as well as cultural and societal factors and domestic and international factors (Garrison, 2003, p. 155; Mintz & DeRouen, 2010, pp. 3–4). Such an approach comes closer to the real world, in which action in the foreign policy domain is a combination of purposive behavior, cognitive-psychological factors, and the various structural features that characterize and affect state interactions. Hence, the analysis of any such foreign policy action can neither exclude nor privilege any of these factors (Carlsnaes, 2002, p. 342).

This realization calls for synthetic approaches integrating domestic and international levels of analysis (Rosenau, 1969; Putnam, 1988; Checkel, 1993; Smith et al., 2008) as well as structure and agency, in an attempt to bridge the gap between realist and constructivist perspectives in international relations (Hudson, 2002; Snyder, 2005). Role theory (Kaarbo, 2003; Grossman, 2005; Cantir & Kaarbo, 2012; Thies & Breuning, 2012) and poliheuristic theory (Mintz, 2004) have also made significant breakthroughs in synthesizing different perspectives on foreign policy making and foreign policy change. Less ambitiously, multiperspectivism and eclecticism represent a research trend to elucidate and juxtapose insights from analytical frameworks based on different theoretical—and even ontological—assumptions, without necessarily seeking their integration (Stern, 2003, p. 185).

Along these lines, this contribution provides an eclectic analytical typology of parameters stemming from both rational choice and cultural approaches to foreign policy making. Looking at parameters enables the integration of earlier work both on sources and agents or processes of foreign policy change, albeit in a different format and classification (see in particular Goldmann, 1988; Hermann, 1990; and more recently, Cantir & Kaarbo, 2012, pp. 7–19). Following recent research on the application of public policy approaches to foreign policy (Travis & Zahariadis, 2002; Zahariadis, 2005, 2014; Mazaar, 2007; Brummer et al., 2018), the analytical framework of this contribution expands earlier work (Blavoukos & Bourantonis, 2014) by clustering the identified parameters of foreign policy change according to their domestic or international origins and structural or conjunctural nature. Domestic structural parameters comprise the domestic political setting and the existence of advocacy groups in support of alternative foreign policy options. International structural parameters that induce a foreign policy change refer, on the one hand, to systemic changes that may bring about a foreign policy realignment and, on the other hand, the country’s position in (and relationship with) the international system. In this analysis, the addition of parameters of conjunctural nature, either domestic or international, helps account for unexpected developments that may upset the existing status quo and trigger foreign policy changes (i.e., death or succession of political leader, human disasters and humanitarian crises, international security crises, etc.).

The analytical eclecticism and the emphasis on parameters of change constitute the key theoretical contribution of the framework. They allow bridging the gap between different approaches and different foci of analysis in foreign policy making, integrating sources as well as agents of change. It provides a comprehensive typology that captures the structural features of the domestic political system and the system of international relations as well as the interplay between these two levels of analysis. This combination is complemented by the attention given to conjunctural developments that can affect either or both. The latter element is often neglected in relevant treatises of foreign policy analyses, although there is apt evidence of its enormous but hard-to-systematize significance.

The appropriateness of the analytical typology is illustrated by reference to two case studies in the post-Cold War era: (a) the incremental Greek-Turkish rapprochement following the Greek foreign policy shift in the late 1990s and (b) the Israeli reorientation that enabled the Oslo Peace Agreement in the early 1990s. Both cases constitute primary examples of major foreign policy realignment and are the result of complex and multidimensional processes. In the Greek case, domestic political developments were triggered by the unforeseen death of the Prime Minister and the succession race that followed, with different party fractions vying for power. An external security crisis and a re-prioritization of foreign policy objectives owing much to parallel developments within the European integration process sealed the decision for change. In the Israeli case, the 1988 internal security crisis associated with the Palestinian Intifada and the new international environment after the end of the Cold War reinforced the political figures and forces that espoused an alternative handling of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Still, these forces had to navigate through the troubled waters of Israeli electoral politics before ensuring the feasibility of such a radical foreign policy shift. These two case studies illustrate best the main argument that foreign policy change has various—often overlapping—origins, and therefore, a multiparametric analytical approach is needed to better capture change dynamics.

The contribution evolves in three stages: (a) an elaboration of the analytical framework, (b) the presentation of the two case studies, and (c) a concluding section that revisits the typology of parameters and discusses their interplay.

Parameters of Foreign Policy Change

Public policy reform may have both domestic and international origins. International origins entail the various forms of conditionality policy applied by states or international organizations that render assistance or enhanced relations conditional to domestic policy adjustment (Stallings, 1992). They may also entail the spreading of a specific policy paradigm to a country or broader international policy paradigm shifts that initiate a process of social learning (Hall, 1993; Legro, 2000), especially nurtured by international interactions and membership in international organizations (cf. Haas, 1990). With regard to domestic origins, two main analytical approaches have emerged: a liberal one focusing on sociopolitical preferences and interest groups, and an institutionalist one looking primarily at domestic institutional arrangements (Haggard, 2000, pp. 21–22). Additional insights on the domestic origins of policy change have highlighted the implementation stage of reforms and the importance of building consensus around reform strategies as condition for their political sustainability (Stiglitz, 2000, pp. 556, 571). In that respect, political stability and government effectiveness are crucial parameters not only at the initiation stage but also at the implementation stage, when the initial reform impetus needs to be translated into actual policy outcomes.

Although the features of foreign policy making vis-à-vis any public policy may be idiosyncratic, the public policy literature does offer useful insights on foreign policy change (cf. Brummer et al., 2018). Along the lines of public policy reform analysis, the change-inducing parameters can be clustered in four groups, according to their domestic or international origins and their structural or conjunctural nature.

Domestic Structural Parameters

Domestic structural parameters refer to the domestic political and institutional setting as well as the advocacy groups that adhere to and push forward an alternative foreign policy course. The former cluster focuses mainly on the “black box” of the foreign policy-making process (i.e., institutional structures) and the latter mostly on the collective or individual sources of alternative policy input (i.e., agents). The policy-making process captures the “aggregation function” of the multiple societal inputs and is best operationalized by the concept of the “authoritative decision unit” (Hagan, 2001, pp. 5–6). This unit entails an individual or a group of people with the ability and authority to make a decision and commit the resources of a society on a foreign policy issue. It can take the form a powerful leader (e.g., monarch, dictator, a predominant political figure in a democratic system), a single group (e.g., Politburo in the former Soviet Union, a group of Army officers collectively engaged in a military coup, Cabinet under a Prime Minister with a collective policy-making style, etc.), or a multitude of autonomous actors (e.g., coalition governments, actors with veto power over foreign policy decisions, etc.) (Hermann, 2001).

Each type of unit features different properties and has a varying capacity to induce foreign policy change (Mintz & DeRouen, 2010, pp. 19–21; Doeser, 2011). In general, autonomy and insulation of the unit from political dependencies (i.e., Army, veto power actors, electoral concerns, coalition partners, etc.) create a policy-making environment more conducive to change. For example, in a democratic regime, foreign policy change is more likely to occur in cases of strong, single-party governments with a Prime Minister dominating decision making in the Cabinet, few or no veto points (by a President, Constitutional Court or other), and small societal involvement or interest (Welch, 2005, p. 45). All other institutional and political constraints remaining the same, the degree of “openness” of each type of unit to external stimuli is an important parameter that conditions the extent to which each type may bring about change. In the first type, the powerful leader, “openness” is associated with the contextual sensitivity of the predominant figure, i.e., how sensitive the leader is to advice and information from the environment when making a foreign policy decision. Strong and long-held views by the leader vis-à-vis foreign policy issues will filter out any alternative insights and unless these views are critically challenged by a foreign policy shock, for example, they will ensure path-dependent foreign policy decisions. In the second type, “openness” is delimited by the scope and pace of the consensus-building process within the single group. Prompt consensus leaves little space for questioning and revisiting an existing foreign policy, whereas the more the discussion lingers among the members of the group, the more the policy-making system becomes more receptive to outside insights that may eventually lead to change. In the third type, “openness” depends on the relationship among the multiple actors involved, which determines when deadlock is likely to occur. A confrontational relationship leads to foreign policy bottlenecks and stasis; interdependent actors in such zero-sum games are usually locked in and can do little to initiate change. If these actors, however, reach a point of mutual understanding and establish the basic rules of the game, there emerges a basis for agreement although, of course, the exact terms of the final decision for change will be the outcome of hard bargaining among them (Hermann & Hermann, 1989, pp. 365–369).

Advocacy groups can be clustered in three categories. First, adherents to an alternative political culture and foreign policy orientation related with the broader understanding of the international system. It entails a specific conceptualization of foreign and security policy, a deriving prioritization of objectives, and a predisposition of societal and political elites toward certain actions and policy instruments. Given the deep-rooted effects of culture in social activities, political culture has long been associated with continuity rather than change in foreign policy (Duffield, 1994, p. 179; 1999, pp. 770–772). However, social actors with alternative collective identities and aspiring to alternative norms can and do initiate major foreign policy changes (Adler, 1997; Barnett, 1999; Finnemore & Sikkink, 2001; Rynhold, 2007). Second, socioeconomic groups under the assumption that international agreements have a distributive aspect that triggers private and aggregate welfare shifts in domestic constituencies. The alternative preferences of individual groups may become predominant ones and induce foreign policy change (Evans, 1993; Milner & Keohane, 1996). Public opinion also falls in this group delimiting the outer boundaries of national foreign policy (Risse-Kappen, 1991; O. R. Holsti, 1992; K. J. Holsti, 1995, pp. 260–265). Public opposition to foreign policy shift is costly in political terms for democratic leaders, especially if it comes from their own electoral constituency (Mor, 1997, p. 204; Mintz & DeRouen, 2010, pp. 131–132; Doeser, 2011, pp. 224–226). The third advocacy group is policy entrepreneurs, especially when they originate from or are situated in the upper echelons of the governmental structures (Blavoukos & Bourantonis, 2012). They are usually political figures with special skills, vision, and/or leadership capacity, who manage to overcome the inertia of previous foreign policy action (cf. Byman & Pollack, 2001; Hermann et al., 2001). The origins of their preference divergence and the drive of their policy differentiation can be located in a different understanding, conceptualization, and prioritization of international challenges stemming from their belief systems, cognitive factors, and other idiosyncratic features (Hermann, 1980; Moravcsik, 1993, p. 30). The three groups may have overlapping membership, for example, a policy entrepreneur embracing an alternative political culture. The general proposition is that the stronger these groups emerge in the domestic political arena in terms of membership, voice, and potential influence over policy outcomes, the more probable foreign policy change becomes.

International Structural Parameters

International structural parameters refer to and emanate from the state’s participation in the international system, associated either with the structural features of the system or the state’s interactions within it. In general, the more fundamental and wide ranging the systemic changes are, the more probable it is that they lead to major foreign policy changes. After all, systemic factors delimit and constrain foreign and security policy. Thus, systemic changes may lead to a reconceptualization of security threats and challenges, a reprioritization of foreign policy objectives, and the emergence of new means of actions and foreign policy options. Therefore, systemic changes may well bring about major foreign policy realignments. For example, the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the bipolar world opened up a broad new range of foreign policy options for the United States, Germany, and the countries of Central and Eastern Union that was previously unavailable (Duffield, 1994).

Further foreign policy changes may occur as a result of the state’s interactions with other states and international organizations through mechanisms of foreign policy adjustment, conditionality policies and socialization processes. First, states adjust their policies to what other states do. Power changes in systems preoccupied with the balance of power trigger alliance shifts. Domestic upheavals that bring about radical foreign policy shifts in one country impose a differentiated response by the other countries with an interest in the region (e.g., the American repositioning after the Islamic revolution and Shah dethronement in Iran). Second, a state may alter its foreign policy as a prerequisite for membership in international organizations, closer engagement with other states or integration in the international system more generally. Political conditionality is used extensively by the international community to exercise exogenous pressures for political and institutional isomorphism (Checkel, 2000; Schimmelfennig et al., 2005). Third, participation in international organizations may activate foreign policy changes through socialization processes. Assuming an international organization has a distinctive normative and cultural basis, membership in it entails, if not an a priori adherence to its norms and values, at least their gradual internalization. The level of institutional embeddedness in an international organization, as illustrated by membership continuity and commitment, as well as the depth and scope of interaction, are important parameters that determine the pace of the social learning process and may eventually lead to foreign policy redirection.

Conjunctural Parameters

Conjunctural parameters of domestic and international origins refer to unforeseen events with an impact on one or more of the structural parameters discussed in the previous section. Such developments trigger policy crises and open an “opportunity window” for policy reform (Keeler, 1993; Boin et al., 2005). Policy windows constitute opportunities for advocates of an alternative policy option to push it forward (Kingdon, 1995, pp. 179–190). The dynamics of foreign policy change they unleash differ according to the type of the authoritative decision unit. They may have cognitive and psychological effects on the powerful leader or the members of the single group in office. By generating conditions of uncertainty, they may alter the domestic policy dynamics in the multitude of autonomous actors involved in the foreign-policy–making process. For example, they may force the pursuit and establishment of surplus majority government coalitions to ensure stability and viability in case of partisan defection (Stinnett, 2007).

Domestically, they may take the form, for example, of a leadership change due to death or succession, with the new incumbent aspiring to an alternative course of foreign policy action. Or they may take the form of a political and/or security upheaval like a military coup, an antiauthoritarian uprising or terrorist activities that may alter the domestic, political, and institutional setting, the foreign policy inputs of societal actors, or the structure and attitudes of the authoritative decision unit. Or they may take the form of a humanitarian disaster that generates public sympathy and may pave the way for foreign policy realignment toward an adversary (Rumelili, 2003). An international security crisis may take the form of a political or military imbroglio with a rival country or a problematic response to an international challenge. Such crises highlight the inappropriateness of past policies to deal with new international developments and trigger a re-evaluation of current policies and practices (Welch, 2005, pp. 45–46; Walsh, 2006).

Unexpected decisions taken by international adversaries may have an effect on the balance of power among competing domestic groups with alternative world views, thus inducing foreign policy change. Historical accounts of the origins of the Cold War illustrate how post-WWII events “shocked” the American administration and tipped the balance in favor of those who called for a more assertive and forceful response to the Soviet Union (Yergin, 1977). The same holds for the post-Cold War Russian foreign policy, which was shaped to a large extent as a reaction to unanticipated American and Western actions (Tsygankov, 2016).

Table 1 summarizes the key features of the analytical framework. The following section discusses these parameters by reference to these two case studies.

Table 1: Parameters of Foreign Policy Change

Nature of Parameters



Origins of Parameters


  • Political and institutional setting: policy making process

    • autonomy and insulation of “authoritative decision unit” from political dependencies

  • Advocacy Groups: Inputs

    • Proponents of an alternative political culture;

    • Socioeconomic interest groups;

    • Policy entrepreneurs

  • Change of political leadership (due to death or succession)

  • Political and/or security upheaval (anti-authoritarian uprise; terrorist action; etc.)

  • Human crisis- humanitarian disaster


  • Systemic changes

    • Reconceptualization of threats and challenges

    • Reprioritization of foreign policy objectives

    • New means of action and foreign policy options

  • Participation in International System

    • Interaction among states

    • Institutional embeddedness in IOs triggers socialization effects

    • Conditionality policy (Sanctions and Benefits)

  • International security crisis

  • International Political Economy crisis (economic and financial crisis) (especially ones that highlight previous policies’ failures)

The Greek Foreign Policy and the Greek-Turkish Rapprochement in the 1990s

Setting the Background

The Helsinki European Council, in December 1999, is a very important milestone for the Greek foreign policy. After a long period of consistently rejecting the deepening of the EU-Turkish relationship, Greece changed its position and consented to Turkey’s prospect of EU membership. Historically, after the Cyprus imbroglio, in 1974, and the Greek accession to the EU, in 1981, Greece used the European political framework as a means to put pressure on Turkey. In the 1980s and most part of the 1990s, Greece blocked financial support to the frail Turkish economy and, most importantly, vetoed the Turkish candidacy for EU membership. As a result, Greece was long portrayed as the sole culprit in the lack of progress in EU–Turkish relations, allowing several EU partners to hide their own concerns behind the cloak of Greek intransigence (Reuter, 2000, p. 3). The Helsinki “package deal” agreement comprised three components: (a) an explicit EU commitment on the accession of Cyprus in the EU, even without prior settlement of the island’s intercommunal conflict, (b) addressing the International Court of Justice within a reasonable time frame for the settlement of the bilateral seabed dispute, and (c) a concrete “roadmap” for the Turkish accession to the EU. The Greek stance in Helsinki marked the culmination of a process of gradual transformation from a conflicting to a more constructive foreign policy approach. Among other components, this transformation entailed the full communitarization of the Greek–Turkish relationship, counting on engagement and socialization effects to bring about eventually the normalization of bilateral relations (Heraclides, 2004, 2010; Tsakonas, 2010).

This major foreign policy shift is the outcome of the interaction between domestic and international, structural and conjunctural parameters: domestic political developments of both structural and conjunctural nature are identified in the form of the change of political leadership after the death of Prime Minister A. Papandreou, and the succession race that followed. The solidification of the new leadership took time and entailed significant intrapartisan political contestation, which explains the time lag in the observed foreign policy shift. Structural international developments can be identified in the EU’s course to establishing an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) and how this interacts with the reprioritization of Greek foreign policy toward the European integration process after the change of political leadership. International conjunctural developments are evident in the form of the 1996 Imia/Kardak Greek-Turkish crisis that brought the two countries to the brink of a military confrontation. This crisis highlighted the limitations of the previous approach to the handling of the bilateral relationship and weighed substantially in the minds of the new Greek political leadership.

Domestic Structural Parameters

The Greek political and electoral system has nurtured, until recently, strong parliamentary majorities and single-party governments to avoid fragmentation and political instability. The preference for powerful, unified executive and the charismatic figures that reined in political parties contributed to the increasing concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister. As a result, changes in the Prime Ministerial post may entail substantial policy shifts, even if there is no political party alteration in power. This holds also in the foreign policy-making process, which is characterized by limited institutionalization and the personalized policy-making style and the ethos of the person in office (Ioakimidis, 1999).

In the course to Helsinki, both offices changed hands without an alteration of the governing party. Following the resignation of the PASOK founder and leader, A. Papandreou, due to health problems in the mid-1990s, the succession race brought to power C. Simitis. He led the so-called “modernization” fraction in the party, which espoused a political platform of economic and societal modernization, based on pragmatism, a managerial discourse, and a technocratic approach to policy making (Diamandouros, 1997, p. 32). Simitis called for the gradual reinstatement of Greece at the EU level, especially through economic convergence with the European partners and EMU membership (Lyrintzis, 2005; Tsoukalis, 2000). The latter became the central political point of reference and the major national priority of this period (Moschonas, 2001, p. 14). The chances to bring about economic restructuring and to achieve EMU membership would increase by means of the “peace dividend” of a potential Greek–Turkish rapprochement. Hence, the reprioritization of Greek foreign policy objectives after the 1996 “change of guards” in PASOK brought along a partial, albeit substantial, strategic reconceptualization. This policy shift was delayed by the intrapartisan reaction, and inertia and took central stage with a considerable time lag, especially after the change of leadership at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the beginning of 1999. The new Minister, G. A. Papandreou was an ardent supporter of a more engaging and constructive relationship with Turkey; he orchestrated the final stage of the Greek foreign policy shift in the course to Helsinki (cf. Papandreou, 1999; Rumelili, 2003).

Thus, it is possible to identify two sets of domestic structural parameters to account for the Greek foreign policy shift. First, the institutional features of the Greek political system provide to a large extent an insulated environment for the authoritative decision unit to initiate a policy turn, not only by means of the Prime Minister’s domination but also through the personalized style of foreign policy making. Second, in the 1990s, the Greek society featured the ascendance of an alternative political culture in the domestic political arena, substantiated especially through the new leadership in the PASOK ruling party. The political forces associated with this culture shared a different perspective of the country’s policy priorities as well as a different, more consensual and engaging approach to foreign policy. Political entrepreneurship of the new leadership first in the Prime Ministerial office and subsequently at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributed substantially to the foreign policy shift.

International Structural Parameters

The end of the Cold War, in 1989, altered the Greek foreign policy orientation vis-à-vis Turkey in three respects. First, it triggered the Balkan turmoil, with the violent dissolution of ex-Yugoslavia. The resurgence of the old specter of nationalism and irredentism renurtured the Greek “insecurity syndrome” that had been silent during the Cold War (Prodromou, 1997, p. 129). Greece had to refocus on the new strategic conditions at the country’s northern borders, which entailed an overstretching of national resources to counter existing or perceived threats. Second, the EU articulated incrementally an enlargement policy to fill in the political void that had emerged in Central and Eastern Europe. The eligibility criteria, set out in the Copenhagen European Council, in 1993, constituted the cornerstone of the EU’s conditionality approach to enlargement, linking EU membership with domestic reforms in the candidate countries and adjustment to the EU norms and modus operandi. This provided the overarching policy framework and the necessary instruments for the communitarization of the Greek–Turkish relations. Third, Cyprus applied for membership to the European Union, in 1990, overcoming objections that had long preoccupied the political leadership of the Cypriot government. The Cypriot candidacy became one of the main priorities of the Greek foreign policy. The problem was that several EU partners raised concerns about Cyprus’ accession, fearing that the European Union would import the political problem of the island and further complicate the EU–Turkish relationship. Hence, the Greek strategy entailed synergistic linkages with other important EU negotiations to push forward the Cypriot candidacy (Ioakimidis, 1996, p. 75).

In addition to this systemic change and its effects, the Greek membership in the European integration process has had a tangible impact on the Greek foreign policy style and approach. The “europeanization” effect, which became more evident in the second half of the 1990s, suggested a shift from the formalistic rhetorical style of the past to a more engaging, more pragmatic, and more problem-solving–oriented Greek foreign policy (Economides, 2005; Tsardanidis & Stavridis, 2005). The new approach can be partly attributed to the ever-deepening institutional embeddness in the EU architecture and the ongoing political socialization in the European foreign policy structures, norms and values as well as the eventual acceleration of the learning process for the Greek administration and the diplomatic service (Ioakimidis, 2000).

Conjunctural Parameters

Three significant events in the 1990s paved the way for the Greek turnaround. The first, which has been already mentioned, is the resignation of the octogenarian Prime Minister and founder of the PASOK party, A. Papandreou, due to health problems at the end of 1995. This unpredictable development opened a “window of opportunity” for C. Simitis and the “modernization” fraction within PASOK to come into power and initiate policy change. The second important development was the Imia/Kardak imbroglio in January 1996 that brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of war. This conflict demonstrated to the Simitis administration the failure of earlier approaches to Turkey’s containment and jeopardized the new, EMU-related, policy priorities (Georgiades, 2000; Simitis, 2006). The escalation to an armed conflict was avoided only after U.S. rapid intervention, highlighting yet again the inefficiency of EU structures to cope with security crises. This conflict also manifested the Greek vulnerability vis-à-vis Turkey, ripening the conditions for a new approach to the bilateral relations. Thirdly, the devastating earthquakes in August and September 1999 in the two countries led to an outburst of popular solidarity across the Aegean Sea, assisting the build up of mutual confidence. The “earthquake diplomacy” used instrumentally the mutual public sympathy caused by these humanitarian disasters to counter long-lasting and history-driven negative stereotypes. This conducive, domestic environment increased substantially the political feasibility of the Greek foreign policy shift, which would have been unthinkable for any previous Greek government.

The Israeli Foreign Policy and the 1993 Oslo Accords

Setting the Background

The Oslo Accords in August 1993 constituted a radical shift from Israel’s previous hard-line foreign policy toward the Palestinians. It entailed a three-fold change: First, Israel reversed its long-held rejection of PLO as a negotiating partner. The decision to hold direct talks with the PLO, as the authentic representative of the Palestinian people, entailed a diplomatic revolution for Israel. All Israeli governments (since the capture of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967) had consistently rejected the PLO as a negotiating partner in the past, seeking to negotiate instead with alternative partners, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria or even delegations of local Palestinians from the West Bank (Shlaim, 2001, p. 512). Second, Israel officially recognized in Oslo the legitimate and political rights of the Palestinian people in exchange for the PLO renounce of terrorism and recognition of Israel’s right to exist in conditions of peace and security. Third, Israel put an end to its long-standing opposition to territorial compromise by expressing its will to come to some form of territorial exchange of authority to enhance the peace process (Makovsky, 1996). The Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Labor Party, Yitzhak Rabin, agreed to a withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and West Bank and affirmed the Palestinian right of self-government within those areas through the creation of a Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian rule was to last for a 5-year interim period to be granted in stages during which a permanent agreement would be negotiated. Remaining difficult and controversial issues, like the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, security and borders, were deliberately excluded from the Accords and left to be decided at a later stage.

The analysis of the Israeli foreign policy shift provides ample evidence of the interaction between domestic and international, structural and conjunctural parameters. The post-bipolar, post-Cold War international environment altered radically the conditions within which the Israeli foreign policy operated. At the same time, conjunctural security crises, like the 1988 Intifada, contributed much to the changing frame of mind of the domestic society and the political leadership as well. These developments triggered domestic political changes that fed the domestic political contestation delimited by the electoral system that nurtured the coalition government. Taken together, they reinforced the segments of the society that espoused an alternative foreign policy approach and pushed it upward in the government’s agenda.

Domestic Structural Parameters

Domestic politics in Israel revolve around coalition, party, and electoral politics (Arian, 1998, p. 74). Israel’s proportional electoral system seldom nurtures absolute majorities for a single Israeli party in the Israeli Parliament (i.e., the Knesset). Both major parties (Likud or Labor Party) govern routinely in cooperation with smaller parties or rarely in cooperation with each other in coalitions of national unity. Surplus majorities that contain more parties than are necessary to control the absolute majority are most often the case. This is due to the regional political uncertainty that produces frequent and intense military conflicts that may thwart junior coalition members with an undermining effect to governmental stability (Stinnett, 2007). In this environment, the Prime Minister plays a very influential, though by no means exclusive, role in the decision-making process having competence on foreign, security, and defense policies (Barnett, 1999, p. 17). Heading the coalition that rules the Knesset, the Prime Minister has to take into consideration intracoalition politics and must make the necessary compromises to ensure the coalition’s political viability.

The electoral cycle of Israeli politics that culminated to the 1992 elections was critical for the foreign policy shift. The electoral victory of the Labor Party, after 15 years of Likud’s political predominance, changed the foreign policy discourse (Gewurz, 2000, p. 186). The Party ran on a political platform of reconceptualization and reprioritization of security-related national objectives, associated politically with an alternative, more engaging, political culture vis-à-vis the settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian dispute (Inbar, 1991). This platform emanated from a fraction within the Labor party. This fraction consisted mainly of a younger generation of politicians that had been less engaged in war and conflict than the old guard and, consequently, less associated with “hard” realist security approaches (Hazan, 2000, p. 375). The new approach entailed a cultural shift vis-à-vis the “threat from the Arab world” (Rynhold, 2007, pp. 428–432). In contrast to the confrontational security policy of the earlier years based on containing conflicts through military strength, the new political culture embraced engagement in combination with a willingness to take calculated risks for building peace with the “enemy.”

As a policy entrepreneur, Rabin orchestrated the Labor party’s rupture with the old approach in response to the changing public attitude. The party advocated in the 1992 national elections “territorial compromise” to resolve the conflict, promising an agreement with Palestinians within 6 to 9 months. In the postelectoral stage, he held against opposition expressed by the hawkish fraction of the Labor Party and formed a Labor-led coalition government with the leftist party of Meretz, with whom they shared the same foreign policy aspirations (Rynhold, 2007, pp. 430–432). Despite Rabin’s initial reluctance to negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel accepted Arafat as a negotiating partner, partly due to pragmatic interest and partly due to the broad public appeal of the expected peace (Auerbach & Greenbaum, 2000, pp. 42–48; Hazan, 2000, p. 373). After all, Rabin’s political survival, as both Prime Minister heading the coalition government and as leader of the Labor Party, depended on delivering the promised agreement with the Palestinians (Kelman, 1997, p. 188). The “authoritative decision unit” on the journey to Oslo exhibited a high degree of concentration, excluding even the higher echelons of the political and military bureaucracy, to ensure the insulation of the ongoing negotiations (Arian et al., 2002, pp. 121–125). In addition to Rabin and Peres, only a handful of officials were aware of the secret talks (Peres, 1995; Rabin, 1996; Beilin, 1999; Savir, 1999).

International Structural Parameters

The end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War in 1991 created permissive conditions for Israel’s change of foreign policy course. Following the systemic change that occurred in the Middle East after the United States emerged as the supreme, undisputed, extraregional power in the region, Israel altered its security preoccupations vis-à-vis the United States. The United States intervened in the region not only in a way of appealing to the Israeli government but also as an attractive or at least accommodating gesture to the major Arab states. This new line of thinking in the U.S. administration entailed the maintenance of strategic relations with the countries the United States had entered a military alliance during the Gulf War. One way to do so was to accede to one of the most basic demands of the Arab states, namely to put pressure on Israel to change its “no-dialogue policy” and enter into serious negotiations with its Arab adversaries. This became obvious in the course to the U.S.-sponsored Madrid conference in October 1991 that did not provide the breakthrough but set in place a framework for negotiations between the two sides (Aruri, 1992).

The changing international environment led to two different responses by the Israeli political elite. On the one hand, there emerged a perception that Israel was in a weaker situation in the new order created in the region, at all levels—militarily, strategically, and politically. Despite the fact that the 1991 Gulf War crippled Iraq as a serious threat, it persuaded the Israelis that their reliance on armed forces to defend their territory had been overstated. The threat of missile attacks launched from Iraqi territory showed to much of the public that Israel was not militarily self-sufficient but had to rely more than ever before on the United States for its defense (Kelman, 1997, p. 187). Furthermore, the country’s potential role as a strategic asset for the United States in the Middle East was perceived to have decreased after the end of the Cold War (Barnett, 1999, p. 18). These concerns increased Israel’s vulnerability to U.S. pressures for a foreign policy reversal and engagement in a peace process with the Arab world.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Rabin was convinced that Israel could enter negotiations after 1991 from a clear position of economic, political, and military strength and that the country should take advantage of this opportunity because ultimately time was not on Israel’s side (Peri, 1996, pp. 66–67). He rightly perceived that the Gulf War had caused serious division among the Arab states that had supported the coalition forces under the U.S. command and those having stood aside or supported Iraq. As Peres, the Foreign Affairs Minister in the Rabin government, put it “… no longer were the Arab States inevitably united among themselves and against Israel. An Arab state has engaged in naked aggression against a sister state. An international coalition, including Arab states, had been formed to beat back the aggressor” (Peres, 1995, p. 277). Furthermore, the dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived PLO from its most important diplomatic patron. Arafat’s stand in favor of Saddam Hussein not only caused much international opprobrium but also resulted in severing financial assistance from key Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (Bercovitch, 1997, p. 224). A politically and financially weaker PLO was considered a potentially more malleable and receptive negotiating partner for the Israelis. If Israel wanted a deal with the Palestinians, it could no longer avoid the PLO; the alternative would be a rejectionist and more radical section of Palestinians, like Hamas.

Conjunctural Parameters

The advocates of the foreign policy change found a more conducive environment after the outbreak of the Intifada, in 1987, which generated serious security concerns to the Israeli public and a broad criticism over crisis management. The Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and West Bank led to the transformation of the Arab–Israeli conflict from an interstate to an intrastate dispute. More importantly, it had a very negative impact on the Israeli economy and society and generated serious security concerns among Israeli citizens (Makovsky, 1996, pp. 88–89; Ezrahi, 1997, pp. 71–72). As a result, the Israeli public became critical of the exclusive reliance on military force to solve Israel’s problems (including those created by the Intifada) and more amenable to a peaceful accommodation with the Palestinians. The shock caused by the Intifada made the domestic political setting more receptive to foreign policy change, illustrating the limits of the previous policy and highlighting the need for a new approach (Auerbach & Greenbaum, 2000, pp. 37–45; Rynhold, 2007, p. 426). By its impact on public opinion, the Intifada reinforced the proponents of the alternative political culture within the Labor Party, thus accelerating its political transformation and final embracement of the new approach.

Table 2: Parameters of Foreign Policy—The Empirical Findings


Greek-Turkish Rapprochement

Israeli Foreign Policy and the Oslo Accords

Domestic Structural

Political and Institutional Setting

Policy Making Process and “Authoritative Decision Unit”

  • Strong parliamentary majorities: relative insulation

  • Personalized style of foreign policy making

  • Coalition politics: political dependencies ↑

  • Concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister

Advocacy Groups

Alternative Political Culture

  • “Modernization” faction within the PASOK governing party

  • Younger generation in Labor Party:

    • Cultural shift towards peaceful accommodation and engagement “with the enemy,” not military confrontation→ political platform in the 1992 elections

Socioeconomic groups and public opinion

  • Negative to the change

  • Gradual shift of public opinion (socioeconomic and political repercussions of Intifada)

Policy Entrepreneurs

  • Role of Simitis and G. A. Papandreou

  • Role of Rabin (and Peres)

International Structural

Systemic Changes

  • End of Cold War → Balkan turmoil

  • Overstretching of resources

  • Different security perceptions in Israel → re-prioritization of foreign policy objectives (dialogue with PLO)

  • Hegemonic role of the United States in the post-bipolar environment:

    • search for a new Middle East order

    • pressure on Israel→ Madrid and Washington talks

Participation in International System

  • EU Membership: foreign policy socialization and learning process

  • Accession to EMU: new overarching policy objective

  • Regional security crisis (Gulf War—Iraq):

    • Division of Arab world

    • International weakening of the PLO

Conjunctural Parameters


  • Death of PASOK founder and leader→ succession race that brought “modernization” faction in power

  • Intifada: failure of past policy


  • Imia/Kardak crisis (with Turkey): failure of past policy

  • “Earthquake diplomacy”

Table 2 summarizes the key empirical findings of the two case studies.


Foreign policy change is a complex and multiparametric issue that requires an eclectic analytical approach. Drawing on the insights of the public policy reform literature, the main parameters that can account for change can be clustered according to their origins and nature. The analysis distinguishes between domestic and international, structural and conjunctural parameters, like the domestic political setting, the existence of advocacy groups in support of alternative foreign policy options, systemic changes that bring about a foreign policy realignment, the country’s position in (and relationship with) the international system, and unexpected, domestic or international, events that upset the existing status quo and trigger foreign policy changes.

The two case studies used here to probe the appropriateness of such an analytical framework have been studied in the past extensively. The insights of these scholarly works illustrate the variety of parameters at play that lead to foreign policy reorientation. The identified set is not exhaustive, but it has a significant added value in the sense that it derives from both rational choice and cultural approaches to foreign policy making bridging the gap between theoretical paradigms with different epistemological assumptions. Thus, our work does not constitute a solely empirical contribution to the literature but advances also the analytical discourse, despite its eclectic rather than synthetic nature. Although there is a need for theoretical and methodological purity in social sciences, this should not impede a better understanding of the real world. For example, the realist paradigm would emphasize the collapse of the bipolar world as the most important parameter in foreign policy change. The constructivist school of thought would focus instead on social learning processes and socialization effects. In turn, institutionalists would focus on the domestic institutional set up, with emphasis laid on the power locus, the authoritative decision unit, electoral and coalition politics, and political enfranchisement of socioeconomic interest groups. But is it possible to isolate the impact of any parameter and if done so how close to reality is our understanding of the process that generates foreign policy change?

The next steps toward more analytical sophistication entail the weighting of these parameters. Our case studies point to different directions. Reversing the order of discussion, conjunctural parameters have a catalytic role, regardless of whether they have domestic or international origins. The succession race in Greece and the resulting change of leadership altered completely the operational logic of the authoritative decision unit. The “earthquake diplomacy” smoothed reactions of the Greek public opinion. The Imia/Kardak event and the outbreak of the Intifada illustrated the failure of past policies and urged for some kind of change. Naturally, systemic changes are omni-present and cannot be excluded from any analysis. They set the agenda of policy change by altering the environment within which foreign policy evolves and calling for a reprioritization of foreign policy objectives. However, this seems to be more the case for Israel’s foreign policy reorientation. Although in the Greek case the Balkan imbroglio led to a resource overstretching, it was the deep embeddedness in the European integration structures that had more far-reaching repercussions to the Greek foreign policy through socialization and learning mechanisms.

In either case, the effect of these parameters is filtered through the domestic structural ones. Each polity has different transmission channels, largely due to its idiosyncratic socioeconomic, political, and institutional features. The Israeli case illustrates the interplay of the tight authoritative decision unit with the electoral and coalition politics that are the norm rather than the exception in Israeli politics. The absence of strong parliamentary majorities may constitute a problem but the existence of a multitude of political parties available for cooperation enables focused and “niche coalitions” that can push forward an alternative foreign policy agenda. In the Greek case, change came from within the system, to a large extent a corollary of the overall reinstatement of Greece in the core of the integration process. The Holy Grail of EMU accession had a rationalist spillover effect on foreign policy to secure the peace dividend of the rapprochement and paved the ground for the more consensual and engaging attitude vis-à-vis Turkey. In terms of advocacy groups, in both cases foreign policy change became possible when proponents of a different political culture and course of action came to the front stage of the political arena. This occurred either by their own political presence, like Prime Minister Simitis or Minister of Foreign Affairs Papandreou in Greece, or by their ideational ascendance influencing key figures in the political establishment, like Prime Minister Rabin and Minister of Foreign Affairs Peres in Israel. Socioeconomic groups did not play a particular role in the process, a few exceptions notwithstanding, like the Greek-Turkish economic forum. Public opinion was critical in the Israeli case, advocating some kind of change, whereas in the Greek case it served rather as a break than a driver of foreign policy adjustment and had to be carefully handled to avoid the derailment of the process.

One final point of caution: Foreign policy change does not suggest consolidation and cannot exclude the reversal of this change. Neither the Greek-Turkish bilateral disputes have been resolved nor has the Palestinian issue sorted out, despite ceaseless attempts throughout the years that have passed since our case studies. Therefore, the analysis of critical junctures in the foreign policy domain should be complemented with an analysis of foreign policy entrenchment. Foreign policy is extremely dynamic, and as the change-inducing parameters evolve, equal attention should be given to the process of solidification and establishment of the new foreign policy course as the new policy orthodoxy. This can take the form of studying the possible feedback of change to the identified parameters: How does the new foreign policy affect the international system and relations of the country with other international actors, the role of the advocacy groups in the new environment, and the impact on the domestic institutional milieu of foreign policy making?


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