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date: 23 May 2017

Two-Level Games 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.

Whether in multilateral negotiations or bilateral meetings, government leaders regularly engage in “two-level games” played simultaneously at the domestic and international levels. From the two-level-games perspective, executives are viewed as “chief negotiators” who are involved in some form of international negotiations for which they ultimately need to gain domestic approval at the ratification stage. This ratification requirement provides the critical link between the international and domestic levels, but it can be based on formal voting requirements or more informal means of ratification, such as public approval ratings. With its focus on government leaders as “gatekeepers” and central actors in international negotiations, the two-level-games perspective constitutes a distinct approach in foreign policy analysis and serves to reintegrate the subfields of comparative politics and international relations. While there are similarities to a liberal perspective, two-level-games perspective emphasizes that executives hold a certain degree of autonomy in their decision making that cannot be purely derived from their constituencies. Unlike realism, however, the approach recognizes the importance of domestic veto players and institutional constraints. Since its inception in the late 1980s, a vast body of literature on two-level games has evolved, including refinements of its theoretical foundation and applications in various policy areas. Against this background, this article summarizes key controversies in two-level games and foreign policy analysis throughout the last three decades. The discussion is organized along six debates concerning the levels of analysis, domestic political institutions, the interaction between the domestic and international level, relevant actors, their interests and preferences, and the relationship between comparative politics and international relations.