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date: 24 September 2017

Foreign Policy Leadership in the Global South

Summary and Keywords

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.

Keywords: foreign policy, Global South, non-Western models, leadership, poliheuristic theory, acceptability heuristic, Erdogan, Turkey foreign policy


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? For example, South Africa’s Mbeki supported Mugabe in a way that made no sense to most and held to it for years despite international pressure. In another part of the world, Turkey’s Erdogan shifted Turkey’s stance toward several neighbors such as Israel and Syria. The field of Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) offers multiple ways to approach questions of decision-making. FPA research is rich and diverse. Several significant articles have provided a mapping of its landscape, including Hudson and Vore (1995), Hudson (2005), and Kaarbo (2003). Many kinds of variables are explored, in the general areas of elites, institutions, and ideas (Kaarbo, 2015). Within the broader range of FPA, 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. Both Mintz and colleagues’ poliheuristic theory (PH) and Farnham’s work emphasizing the importance of the domestic context have provided explanatory power about the factors affecting leader decision-making in foreign policy. But this and most other work has been based largely on case studies of Western or other developed states, or at least has not approached the context of the Global South or non-Western states theoretically—in a way that recognizes it as governed by generalizable principles different from the Western context. The classifications “Global South” and “non-Western” are not synonyms; the latter includes states like Turkey and the Asian Tigers, for example, which have developed to become economically successful. However, in terms of dealing with the challenge of moving beyond narrow models, literatures that explore work about the overlapping categories prove useful, as will be illustrated.

What we know from scholars of Global South politics is that in fact the considerations of these leaders can be quite different from those of Western leaders. Mohammed Ayoob (1986, 1995), Baghdat Korany (1984), and Christopher Clapham (1996) are seminal works among others that have focused specifically on the political context of the Global South and how it differs from first world settings. Bridging the gap between prominent perspectives in FPA and the study of the non-Western states in the Global South offers the opportunity to take the utility of FPA further while offering insight into foreign policy adopted by Global South and other non-Western leaders that often seems puzzling. This article demonstrates the possibility for fruitful dialogue among FPA decision-making theories and research specific to the Global South context. For illustrative purposes, I explore a case in which the policy adopted appeared surprising or puzzling to observers: the shifts in policies of Turkey’s Erdogan, from rise to power in 2002 to the November 2015 elections. The “hybrid” theory put forth offers new lenses through which to see foreign policy decisions in non-Western states. This framework has also been applied to South Africa’s and Venezuela’s foreign policy but due to space limitations, this article focuses on new work, on Turkey (Grove, 2015; Grove, Lestak, & Garcia, 2014).

After looking more in depth at the Global South context, I will describe the approaches of both Farnham and Mintz and colleagues. Next a hybrid framework is presented, adapting the FPA theories to this varied context. Finally, this integrated framework decodes the puzzling case of Turkey’s shifting foreign policy under Erdogan and the AKP or Justice and Development Party.

Foreign Policy Beyond the West: Why Worthy of Distinct Models?

The dominant assumption in FPA is that theoretical frameworks apply beyond subsets of states or cases, usually offering variables that cut across the Global South/developed state distinction and sometimes making comparisons within that general approach (see Beasley, Kaarbo, Lantis, & Snarr, 2013). For example, researchers might examine the role of parliamentary coalitions, small group decision-making, groupthink, leadership traits, belief systems, or political opposition, phenomena that exist in most systems (the first only in parliamentary systems, of course). In the 1970s and 1980s, scholars whose work was focused on the Global South such as Clapham (1977), Korany (1984), and Stremlau (1980), sought to draw attention to these states, which share cultural heterogeneity, narrowly based political institutions, and economic underdevelopment (Clapham, 1977). Arguing that contexts were too different to approach with general frameworks, they drew on case studies to point out distinctive characteristics that merited approaching the study of their foreign policy as a separate question. Korany (1984, 1986), reflecting on cases written by himself and others in an edition of the International Political Science Review distilled the following propositions:

  1. 1. The “real life” or objective factors of a country are distinct from the psychology of its leader. National and international pressures (low degree of industrialization, international power hierarchy) limit what a leader can do or what his character or belief system would predispose him to do (Korany, 1984, p. 102).

  2. 2. It is correct to be skeptical about the utility of the decision-making approach in understanding LDC foreign policy. “. . . [B]oth decisions and the foreign policy process as a whole are part and parcel of the wider social process reflecting the characteristics of underdevelopment” (Korany, 1984, p. 103).

  3. 3. The president may be the “sole decision-taker, he is not the sole decision-maker” (Korany, 1984, p. 103). He points to the role of advisors, transnational actors, and other factors.

Korany astutely points out how significant the context of the Global South is, noting that context emphasizes both internal and external factors (system structure, role of multinational corporations). While for him, writing in 1984, the conclusions downgrade the utility of decision frameworks for understanding developing state foreign policy; we now have more sophisticated decision-making approaches with the potential to incorporate aspects of the wider social process and the national and international pressures that he said were ignored by contemporaneous frameworks. As he noted, the case study approach in his edited volume “. . . allows us to bring the leader in . . . [T]he preceding analysis deals with the leader and his mode of action as part of the Third World situation with its socio-economic traits of underdevelopment and political consequences of institutional vacuum or corporatist state structures. Briefly, the leader is analyzed in conjunction with—rather than instead of—this Third World situation” (Korany, 1984, p. 103). As will be apparent below, the framework I propose and apply is an effort to refine a predominant FPA approach in order to analyze non-Western, including Global South, leaders “in conjunction with” their situations, generalizable by drawing on research about their contexts.

Additional earlier work provides useful ideas about the context. Stremlau (1980) points out two dominant priorities of developing states: national security and economic development. Importantly, he emphasizes that considerations of national security usually start with what needs to be done to protect “the physical safety and political tenure of a particular leader and his regime” (Stremlau, 1980, p. 162). This focus on regime security, as opposed to national security, is a key distinguishing concept for the Global South: “The primary and prevalent concerns of Third World governments are with the threats to their security that are domestic in origin or emanate from conditions in neighboring countries; the international dimensions of these local issues will typically determine the core of the foreign policy of these countries” (Stremlau, 1980, p, 162).

Ayoob’s body of work takes us further, exploring what security means in developing states by emphasizing the degree to which domestic and foreign politics are essentially intertwined. Ayoob also argues that in Western states, security is externally focused. But in the developing world, there is an acute sense of insecurity of states, and especially of regimes, from internal as well as external sources (1986, p. 8). State formation by colonial rulers without regard to relationships or differences of groups within the borders has led to the mismatch between nation and state, often with leaders lacking broader legitimacy among the people within the state borders. As a result, security threats can be just as likely to come from inside the borders as outside, contributing to the breakdown of the domestic/foreign dichotomy. “Moreover, external threats quite often augment the problems of insecurity that exist within state boundaries and, in many cases, would be quite ineffective if internal threats and domestic fissures did not exist within Third World societies” (Ayoob, 1986, p. 8). Issues with neighbors that have little significance for a developed state can become a foreign policy problem requiring a decision because of domestic politics. Again, we see the blurred lines between the domestic and foreign here. Further, internal threats are sometimes “externalized” by regimes in order to portray those internal threats as illegitimate and thus the regime’s actions to repress the internal threat as legitimate (Ayoob, 1986, p. 8). These ideas resonate well when we consider the current situation in the Middle East. One example is the Saudi-Iran rivalry and their involvement in wars in both Syria and Yemen because of transnational religious linkages and the roles of religious minorities within their own borders. Another illustrative case, explored later in this article, is Turkey and its role in the Syria conflict as shaped by its struggle against the Kurds at home, and vice versa: its struggle against the Kurds at home as shaped by the Syria conflict (see Almuktar & Wallace, 2015). Looking at the Middle East region, Gause (2007) notes that foreign enemies may meddle in domestic politics to try to encourage domestic opponents of a regime to act against it. He recognizes the transnational links and how those identities and interests can be exploited by neighboring rivals (though he argues that regimes often overestimate the ability of their neighbors to do so). Gause posits that scholars and policymakers do not give enough weight to perceptions of threat to regime stability, especially those coming from domestic sources but abetted by foreign powers (Gause, 2007).

Paribatra and Samudavanija (1986) highlight several ways the internal problem of legitimacy becomes externalized. Fragile polities are easily permeable by external actors. In addition, decision-makers in the Global South often engage in the promotion of external conflict behavior as a means of unifying a fragile/divided state (1986, pp. 77–79). Because of these factors, a leader’s calculations about what is acceptable in the “domestic” arena often must involve other actors beyond the states’ borders who are often important players in the internal conflict (such as ethnic or religious brethren).

Clapham (1996) also asserts that Global South leaders attempt to address the legitimacy problem thus overcoming domestic weakness by turning to the international arena, with three modes possible. Former colonizing states had/have the potential to strengthen a regime through economic relationships, thus boosting the legitimacy of the leaders by helping them show to their populace that they can produce economic welfare. Also, the regional state system and to some extent the “Third World” as a whole provide a mechanism by which to emphasize the external legitimacy of the regime and thus improve the image of the ruler domestically (Clapham, 1996, pp. 73–74). Allison (2008), with a focus on Central Asian states joining regional organizations to increase legitimacy at home, calls this phenomenon “bandwagoning.” As these authors note, there is not a clear distinction that security is only military. Instead, economic development and diplomacy have to play a key role in securing regime legitimacy.

More recent work also aims to develop foreign policy theorizing about the Global South. Braveboy-Wagner’s The Foreign Policies of the Global South: Rethinking Conceptual Frameworks (2003) has a specific agenda to determine and fill the gaps left by Western models about Global South foreign policy. To my point above about economics and security being entangled, Braveboy-Wagner notes a similar distinction with the Global South: “. . . to study Global South foreign policy is to incorporate elements of international relations and international political economy, as well as traditional ideas about foreign policy emanating from decisionmakers’ choices” (2003, p. 8). Braveboy-Wagner and Snarr note that in the Global South, “foreign policy has long been closely tied to domestic concerns—economic, social, and societal (e.g., cultural-ethnic), as well as political (nation-building, regime survival) issues” (2003, p. 10). What has been lacking is (1) the willingness for Global South scholars to apply decision-making theories developed in the West to non-Western cases, largely because of the difficulty of acquiring data; and (2) the belief that political economy approaches offer better explanations (2003, p. 20). But she criticizes critical theories such as dependency and world systems analysis as “too grounded in structural considerations and in economic determinism,” even if they have the benefit of highlighting position in the global hierarchy and incorporating domestic societal forces (2003, p. 28). Braveboy-Wagner and Snarr (2003) argue for the blending of political economic and decision-making models in which the model can take into account aspects of context such as economic and societal influences, addressing the increasing relevance of domestic publics, world society, and transnational forces (2003, pp. 21, 29). The model developed here attempts to meet this call.

One of the most recent and thorough attempts to consider the limitations of the subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis is Klaus Brummer and Valerie Hudson’s 2015 edited volume, Foreign Policy Analysis beyond North America. In the introductory chapter, Hudson explores the work of Korany (1986, an edited volume based on the journal issue discussed above) and Braveboy-Wagner (2003). She points out that both authors, though nearly 20 years apart, had similar grievances about the inherent bias toward the study of “developed Western states” in the field of FPA (Hudson, 2015, p. 5). While there have been many descriptive studies, theoretically oriented work of non-Western countries is rare. Brummer and Hudson draw together authors from beyond North America, each writing a chapter about FPA in their particular regions. Included are India, the Arab states, Africa, Latin America, and also Europe and Japan. Brummer’s final chapter argues that these perspectives can broaden mainstream FPA by leading us to consider new foreign policy actors and new levels of analyses—“the growing importance of regional and subregional organizations” and of other factors at these levels (Brummer, 2015, p. 181). As he notes, most FPA models focus on the executive (the presidency, advisory system, bureaucratic politics) or legislative branches and do not incorporate these other types of categories (Brummer, 2015, p. 179). Indeed, this conclusion is similar to Braveboy’s argument noted above.

The chapters in Brummer and Hudson (2015) that focus on African states and the Arab world offer perhaps the most insight on influences that are not included or explored enough in models developed from the U.S. system. Adar (2015), writing about Africa, describes the impact of regional and continental organizations (such as the African Union, the Southern African Development Community, and the Economic Community of West African States) on the decision-making environment. He argues that the organizations can constrain leaders as well as broaden the scope of policymaking. While he does not offer theory himself, he argues that these organizations provide “a catalyst for theory progression in FPA” (Adar, 2015, p. 118).

Hinnebusch, writing about Arab states, presents a thorough literature review. While covering a range of variables, he highlights that the role of dependency (how core-periphery relations affect foreign policy), personalized leadership, and (transnational) identity “appears more salient than elsewhere” (2015, p. 99). Indeed, work from constructivist approaches such as those in Telhami and Barnett’s edited volume (2002) and in Barnett (1998) offers the insight that national interests and conceptions of role are not dictated by structure but instead are derived from identity. Identity, in turn, is socially constructed in the complex process of interaction among elites and publics. Paying attention to framing of threat and conceptions of self and audience help to capture part of this process.

Since our subject matter is non-Western systems in the Global South and beyond, these points about considering more domestic, regional, and transnational factors raise a significant issue. Because there is a greater variation along the authoritarian-democratic regime type continuum than in the Western systems of the United States and Europe, the ways in which other factors matter depends on the level of democratization. Systems open to more societal actors tend to be more dynamic. For example, a recent study large-N study showed that when new leaders are elected with different societal support bases, foreign policy is more likely to change (Mattes, Leeds, & Carroll, 2015). The model I propose below makes this an empirical question by incorporating “audience” or constituencies.

With this background, we turn to prominent FPA theories that have domestic context as a core variable in explaining FP decision-making.

Foreign Policy Analysis and the Domestic Context

Scholars of international relations are well aware of debates over the significance of system-, state-, and individual-level factors in understanding the causes of events in the international arena. As noted, Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) is a field of study that investigates various domestic factors to explain state behavior (see Hudson & Vore, 1995). Within this school of thought, decision-making processes have been an area explored through comparative case study, political psychology, and other methods. This kind of work argues that a focus on individuals operating within a domestic political, small group, and/or bureaucratic setting can help us better understand the process of decision-making and thus shed light on foreign policy outcomes (see Hermann & Hermann, 1989). Contexts do not dictate outcomes, however, pushing leaders to choose certain decision options over others. Contexts in which individual leaders or small groups operate can be constraints but can also provide opportunities to reframe the situation for their audiences (for example, see Grove, 2001, 2007). Further, in the tradition of Putnam et al.’s (1993) writing about international bargaining, research has demonstrated how leaders at times engage in “intermestic” policymaking, using factors from their domestic context to achieve goals in foreign policy and also manipulating factors from the international context to achieve domestic goals. Intermestic policymaking has been written about with reference to United States foreign policymaking (e.g., Carter, 2002, p. 3), as well as across cases such as Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the United States, and Northern Ireland (Grove, 2007). This phenomenon has been studied systematically with the analytical tool of four common strategies that are used to connect domestic and foreign variables: framing threat, broadening audience, tying hands, and buying off (see Grove, 2007). Again, structural and institutional variables are important but do not dictate meaning to a leader or outcome of a situation.

Two well-known scholars who also focus on the context for leaders as a key variable are Alex Mintz and colleagues (the poliheuristic theory or PH; e.g., Mintz, 2002, 2004, 2005; Mintz & Geva, 1997) and Barbara Farnham (work on the significance of value conflicts in the political context; Farnham, 1997, 2004). These authors focus on the idea that leaders consider decisions based on their political survival—in other words, “context” in this sense is more strictly about the domestic political considerations that affect a leader’s ability to remain in office and to achieve an agenda at home. Since these approaches focus on the ways domestic politics play a role in foreign policy, the question arises of their applicability to countries that have non-Western systems with quite different domestic contexts. Farnham’s work is concentrated on the United States, and while Mintz and colleagues have looked at a range of cases, many are democratic, Western systems—and those are the basis of much of the theory development. Even though Mintz notes that his theory is generic and points out the non-U.S. cases to which it has been applied (2005, p. 95), without an effort to generalize to categories of states, it does raise the question of whether PH theory can be better specified for particular types of states.

Farnham’s Acceptability Constraint

Emerging from a comprehensive and careful analysis of rational choice approaches and other decision-making perspectives (Farnham, 1997), Barbara Farnham’s theory addresses how leaders deal with value conflicts in which domestic political imperatives clash with the demands of a foreign policy situation. Contrary to the idea that leaders evaluate options in terms of costs and benefits as rational choice models assume, she argues that the decision-making process is rooted in an “awareness of the requirements for effective action in the political context” (Farnham, 2004, p. 442). A basic characteristic of the political setting is “a pervasive concern with acceptability” (2004, p. 443). A policy has to be acceptable to a minimum number of groups and individuals that the leader thinks are most relevant. Decisions have to take into account: not only the pros and cons of a given choice in terms of its substantive content but also in terms of its acceptability. Societies can be located along a continuum in terms of how many actors have to find a policy acceptable. Though Farnham does not explore non-Western or Global South cases, her framework acknowledges that the general idea of an acceptability constraint is applicable in different systems but would be applied quite differently (2004, p. 444).

Decision-makers engage in a noncompensatory screening process. Options are evaluated in terms of whether they meet minimal requirements for acceptability, and higher scores on other kinds of considerations cannot make up for failing to reach a minimal level of acceptability. Thus, the political acceptability is in fact more significant than other aspects of a policy option:

the unavoidability of the acceptability constraint suggests an implicit hierarchy among the values (and it may be a rather different one from that posited by the standard realist account which consistently accords priority to the security value).

(2004, p. 448)

Farnham points out that decision-makers do not necessarily take political constraints as unchangeable and give up on a policy option. They may try to alter what people find as acceptable, educating them and changing their values. In addition, Farnham notes that “in a political context, the whole thrust of decision-making is toward blurring differences and weaving together seemingly incompatible interests. It centers on finding strategies for reconciling competing values and interests rather than trading them off” (pp. 457–458). From this view, policies make sense that look irrational from the rational actor idea that leaders will attempt to optimize. The leader is not captive to international pressures or domestic forces but “takes both into account through a process of balancing (not bargaining),” which gives the push for “transcendent solutions” (p. 459). This notion opens the door to the kind of approach I put forth here; I further specify this process for Global South or non-Western state leaders.

Mintz’s Poliheuristic Theory

The poliheuristic theory (PH) developed by Mintz and colleagues shares Farnham’s emphasis on the domestic when describing acceptability. Their main argument is that leaders make decisions in a two-stage process. PH theory integrates cognitive and rational choice theories of decision-making. The first screening of options uses a heuristic, or shortcut, that is a noncompensatory principle: Any option that poses major political losses in the domestic arena is discarded. Second, as decision-makers evaluate options passing this “test” they use an analytic approach, weighing pros and cons/gains and losses in domestic political terms (Mintz, 2002, 2005; Mintz & Geva, 1997). Mintz (2005) identifies four dimensions on which the options are evaluated: military, economic, political, and diplomatic. Options that do not score well on the “political” dimension will be discarded first (2005, p. 97). Mintz notes, “Public support and personal political popularity are considered to be direct indicators of political power and survivability, and concern for the political consequences of one’s actions often overrides all other considerations” (2002, p. 58).

Both the Mintz and Farnham frameworks use public support as a core measure of acceptability. But when authors such as Astorino-Courtois and Trusty (2002) look at a non-Western example, Syria’s Assad and Syria-Israeli relations, they measure the political dimension as “status and honor” of Assad—he considered how options would affect his status and honor. Other work in the PH tradition investigates Global South cases, specifically autocratic states. Kinne (2005) argues that “both the actors responsible for putting leaders in power . . . and the mechanisms by which actors exercise control over leaders’ political survival deserve consideration . . . [A]ctors and mechanisms vary systematically across states, meaning that there are identifiable patterns to this variation” (Kinne, 2005, pp. 119–120). He draws on a categorization of autocratic regimes used in comparative politics (single-party autocracies, personalist autocracies, and military autocracies) and a dataset created by Geddes (1999). Kinne hypothesizes that leaders in single-party autocracies will drop options that do not meet the interests of the party; leaders in personalist autocracies eliminate alternatives that do not help a leader maintain political status; and leaders in military autocracies will cut out any choices that do not appease the ruling military group (Kinne, 2005, p. 121). By offering clear ideas about what constitutes a “political consideration” across different contexts, Kinne brings some specification to Mintz’s more general theory.

The effort of Kinne (2005) to create systematic, generalizable, and testable hypotheses concerning how the PH theory plays out specifically in autocratic states is laudable and begins to address questions raised by PH theory—and also that emerge as one considers Farnham’s work. PH theory and Farnham share the notion that decision-makers consider the political acceptability in the domestic arena of different options as a noncompensatory qualification. The question raised revolves around the degree to which we accept that the domestic arena is of primary importance. Mintz notes that PH theory is generic (2005, p. 95), which has its value. However, the researcher in fact has to consider each case idiosyncratically to understand what constitutes acceptability in the domestic politics—what the gains and losses are for each choice (“domestic politics is the essence of decision,” Mintz states).

Kinne argues that indeed domestic politics is of primary importance, but which actors we give weight to in the analysis of leaders’ domestic constituencies varies from Western democratic systems where voting publics and domestic political allies are key. He posits that in military autocracies, for example, a decision-maker must please the military. Taking Kinne’s intent further, what if we interrogate whether or not the domestic political context is indeed the source of a leader’s acceptability check? Farnham holds that a policy choice has to be acceptable to a minimum number of groups that a leader thinks is most relevant, and she operationalizes this idea with a primary focus on domestic groups and domestic politics, as does Mintz. Can we learn anything from scholars of the Global South, who have engaged in extensive research on the systems and leaders in non-Western states? How are political contexts different? Whether or not we classify those states as democratic or authoritarian systems, most share characteristics stemming from some or all of the following: their history as colonies, their political economy, their place in the global economy, the lack of fit between nation and state or contentious ethnically based politics, the distinct divide between civilian and military institutions, and/or the level or degree of consolidation of democratic institutions. We can maintain the argument that the heuristic leaders use is the same noncompensatory principle but the evaluation is based on different (but generalizable) factors. It does not make sense to think of a leader as evaluating options with the first step being political acceptability to clearly domestic audiences. Turning to the view that the line between domestic and foreign policy is much less clear-cut in these systems than in Western states, I argue we can make the generic PH theory more accurate with the subset of non-Western cases. By taking a different set of “acceptability” measures into account, we can comprehend better what otherwise would be considered puzzling behavior.

An Integrated View

The FPA theories described previously focus on the acceptability of options in domestic politics and indicate the imperative of retaining political support. We can make that idea more specific by drawing on Ayoob’s insight that “. . . the primary objective of Third World state elites is . . . to reduce the deep sense of insecurity from which Third World states and regimes suffer domestically and internationally” (1995, pp. 2–3). Security-insecurity is defined by Ayoob “in relation to vulnerabilities—both internal and external—that threaten or have the potential to bring down or weaken state structures, both territorial and institutional, and governing regimes” (Ayoob, 1995, p. 9).

For PH theory and Farnham’s acceptability constraint notion, the analyst needs to know which actors in domestic politics are crucial to the leader maintaining office and achieving his or her agenda. For autocratic states, according to Kinne, the analyst needs to know what kind of system the state has (single party, personalist, military) so one can hone in more specifically on which actors in domestic politics are crucial to the leader’s political survival. Building on Ayoob and others’ insights, 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. Looking at these factors builds on and broadens Kinne’s approach beyond autocratic states and gives us a more accurate picture of the leaders’ core considerations. Also, as noted above, survival is related not only to military threats but to economic conditions as well.

In previous work, I developed and applied four strategies all leaders use that help us understand “intermestic” policymaking. These strategies are broadening audience, framing threat, tying hands, and buying off (Grove, 2007; Grove et al., 2014). I propose that, to specify better foreign policymaking in non-Western settings, framing threat and broadening audience can be used as tools to indicate the two criteria (threats the regime faces; internal and external constituencies). An overview of these two strategies is in order. First, leaders may employ a “framing threat” strategy, defined as depicting particular actors and situations as dangerous. It is of course common for leaders to use threat appeals to motivate action or support for policy choices. By focusing in the analysis on 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 (which defy categorization as internal or external).

Second, when leaders seek support, they reach out to a range of constituencies to gain legitimacy for themselves or to help convince those not yet on board that they are part of the larger whole that supports the leader. The “broadening audience” strategy refers to the way in which a leader can expand a coalition to create legitimacy for his policy goals at home or abroad, or support a message of shared identity and in-group solidarity. 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 may and often do cross borders. This variable provides a way to incorporate the influence of various societal actors, whether economic actors, ethnic groups, cultural connections, etc.

These strategies, employed to examine cases of foreign policy in non-Western settings, are indicators of the noncompensatory principle for this subset of cases, showing us how leaders are linking internal and external contexts. Figure 1 illustrates the original FPA approaches, Figure 2 shows Kinne’s modification, and Figure 3 diagrams the proposed model.

Foreign Policy Leadership in the Global SouthClick to view larger

Figure 1: Generic noncompensatory model

Foreign Policy Leadership in the Global SouthClick to view larger

Figure 2: Noncompensatory model for autocratic states

Foreign Policy Leadership in the Global SouthClick to view larger

Figure 3: Non-Western state noncompensatory model

Without having a distinct understanding of the intermestic security and policy environment in which these leaders operate, observers might consider some decisions irrational or self-defeating. Cases in which unexpected or surprising foreign policy shifts occur, and in non-Western or Global South settings, are good tests of this model. Recent foreign policy decisions by Turkey, which have been in front page news for years, were chosen to demonstrate the applicability of this model. Why would Turkey engage in dramatic shifts in its regional policy, including increasing ties with Assad’s Syria, then supporting rebels against him, then refusing to join the anti-ISIS coalition, then engaging in that 100%? Why would this long-standing NATO member move away from its American ally, eventually working with Russia on Syria? Using the two strategies as tools for analysis provides a systematic way to measure the intermestic variables that I argue help explain this behavior. The case study of Turkey from 2002 to 2015 illustrates this method.

While Turkey’s economic standing as part of the OECD (Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation) and the G-20 may seem to bump it out of the Global South category, it does share other characteristics with this very large category of states. Despite Ataturk’s effort to reorient Turkey toward the Western world, it does exhibit non-Western characteristics, with many recent efforts to play a regional and Muslim world leader and the growing role of Islam in politics. This non-Western orientation makes it fitting for the theoretical purposes of this article. Further, it participates in UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, formed by the Global South in 1964); has a large separatist group (Kurds) and thus still struggles with vestiges of the nation/state mismatch; has endured occasional interventions by the military in politics; and has 25% of its labor force in agriculture. By comparison, France, the developed country most associated with a high percentage of labor in agriculture, stands at 3% (CIA World Fact Book, 2017).

The analysis is guided by several questions derived from Figure 3. What are the threats to the leader’s legitimacy and whom does he have to keep happy to survive? A strategy analysis illuminates the intermestic political context, which means the leaders’ actions and statements will be reviewed for use of framing threat and broadening audience. The primary sources of data are accounts of the policy by observers such as academics and journalists, archived speeches and interviews with the leaders, and media coverage of the policy.

Turkish Foreign Policy Under the AKP

Foreign Policy Shift

To scholars examining Turkish foreign policy with fascination, of great interest is the shift away from a distinct pro-Western orientation, which parallels the end of dominance of Kemalist ideas that were the founding notions of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Indeed, Kemal Ataturk’s Western orientation promoted the secularization of Turkey and kept religion out of politics and public life; Ataturk deliberately promoted a separation from the Ottoman past. The military was the defender of the Kemalist project and at times when questions arose about the democratic or secular character of the government, the military stepped in. Coups occurred in 1960, 1971, and 1980 (Patton, 2013). In the secular nation-building project, all ethnic minorities were to be assimilated so that all peoples in the borders of Turkey were considered Turks—including the Kurds, a large minority with its own language and cultural traditions. This policy sets the stage for modern relations with the Kurds, described in more detail below.

The end of the Cold War opened the door to a move away from the United States and a more regional focus, including expanded ties to Central Asia, the Balkans, and the Caucasus (Ozkececi-Taner, 2013). Even though this shift began to some degree in the 1990s, over the past several years, many academics and policy analysts have written about Turkey’s changing foreign policy under the AKP government (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, or Justice and Development Party (in English)), which first took power in 2002 with 34% of the vote. The party has Islamist roots but rejects an Islamist political agenda (Patton, 2013, pp. 482–483). Erdogan became prime minister in March 2003. In August 2014, Erdogan was elected to the presidency with 51.79% of the vote (Election Guide, 2016). When the party first took power, foreign policy had been a secondary issue to the AKP but then it “became the linchpin for the AKP’s social and political legitimacy” (Tuysuzoglu, 2014, p. 91).

Kardas (2013) points out that no consensus has emerged on a conceptual framework to explain Turkey’s behavior as simultaneously pursing both regional and global activism. While the regional agenda has drawn the most attention, in fact, Turkey became increasingly active globally, with a policy that involved “openings” to distant regions beyond the immediate neighborhood, gaining visibility in the advocacy of some global issues, and questioning several elements of the international order (Kardas, 2013, p. 637). Given the fact that Turkey had been an “integral part of the US-led international order since its inception in the post-war era,” its increasing advocacy for addressing the problems of underdeveloped states, humanitarian crises in Africa, and the plight of Palestinians is a big change (Kardas, 2013, p. 653). Especially after the start of the second term in office (2007), Turkey’s foreign policy became more regionally focused and also accelerated deeper linkages with the Balkans, Central Asia, and beyond. Under the AKP, Turkey’s activism became region wide, tied to various issues and went well beyond security relations (Altunisik & Martin, 2011). This is a fundamental shift from the Turkey under the secular elite, who viewed the region as backward and, in the effort to Westernize the country, did not see Turkey as part of the Middle East geography (Gunay & Renda, 2014, p. 53). Also, Turkey under the AKP has increasingly used diplomacy instead of force, “focused on its soft power assets, emphasized engagement and economic interdependence, and promoted mediation roles.” While continuing to promote some similar regional goals as the 1990s coalition governments, the AKP governments differed in how they defined these problems and adopted different strategies to address them (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, pp. 570–571).

Much concern has also been raised about the increased willingness of Turkey under the AKP to defy the United States (see Park, 2015). Examples are the parliamentary vote against cooperation with the Iraq War in 2003; the effort to promote a deal with Iran over its nuclear program (formulated with Brazil) that threatened to derail the U.S.-led efforts and culminating in Turkey (and Brazil) voting against sanctions at the UN Security Council; the worsening relations with Israel; support for Hamas after it won elections in January 2006 (though Turkey still advocates a two-state system); and, for a time, increasing relations with Syria. More recently, Erdogan defied U.S. efforts to involve Turkey in the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria beginning in summer 2014. That policy shifted also, in July 2015. The diminishing of its willingness to fall in line with the United States and NATO has led some pundits to despair: “Turkey under the AKP is a lost cause. It is simply not a partner for NATO” (Schanzer, quoted in Park, 2015, p. 581).

It is clear that the AKP governments, especially since the second election in 2007, have changed Turkey’s foreign policy. This makes sense given the discourse of the party—that it represents groups that have been outside the political, economic, and cultural elite that had dominated the republic since 1923. The ideas behind the policy, articulated by Davotoglu, advisor to Erdogan, then foreign minister (2009–2014), then prime minister (2014–2016), draw on beliefs that glorify the Ottoman past and the historical and cultural ties with the Arab/Islamic world. Often referred to as “neo-Ottomanism,” this view gave birth to the “zero problems with neighbors policy” as the core of the “strategic depth” doctrine that dominated the years before the Arab Spring (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, pp. 577–578).

Noncompensatory Model Applied

The noncompensatory decision-making model is useful in understanding Global South and non-Western state foreign policy, including that of Turkey. The political acceptability constraint is about political survival. Political survival in this world involves addressing intermestic threats and appealing to perceived constituencies that often cross borders. We have to see how the leader understands threats to regime security and legitimacy so we can understand his calculations; we have to know the audiences about whom the leader is most concerned when applying the acceptability heuristic. Acceptable policy options must address threats and fit with desires of relevant constituencies—and none of these can be classified as either completely domestic or foreign in nature.

By using these lenses to investigate the shifts in Turkey’s foreign policies under the AKP and Erdogan, two threats and three audiences stand out as driving what can be deemed “acceptable.” One of the primary threats was the military and its known dislike of the AKP. Concern about military intervention in civilian politics and thus a coup against the AKP government drove policy change. Two examples of change are compliance with EU requirements and shifts in policy toward Israel. Both of these policies provided a way to reduce the importance of the military. A second threat was that from the Kurdish separatists. This threat drove changes toward Iraq, Syria, and the United States.

The audience variable also turns new lenses on Erdogan’s policies. When we see that there are several key audiences whose desires or demands Erdogan seeks to serve, the policies his administration has adopted are less puzzling. Policies otherwise incoherent are “acceptable” because they appeal to audiences whose interests and/or identities cut across borders. This study highlights three audiences; appealing to them explains his policies thus as intermestic moves. First, regime survival requires appealing to those sectors within Turkish society that were newly mobilized by the AKP. Specifically, this includes (1) economic groups and (2) people who identify as Islamic. The former develop interests in other states and the latter have identities that transcend states. A third constituency is the more liberal, Western or Western-oriented audience. Despite other moves that seem contradictory, considerations of acceptability involve choosing policy that appeals to this audience at least at times.

Framing Threat

Concern about a coup emanating from within the ranks of the military was valid, we know now after the July 2016 attempted takeover. In addition, coup plots were discovered in 2003 (Robins, 2013, p. 382), followed by arrests of about one-fifth of Turkey’s generals (Park, 2015, p. 594). This perceived threat from the military is a key motivator of AKP intermestic policy. Coming into office supporting EU membership, the AKP saw required changes to meet EU criteria as helpful in diminishing the role of the military. Reforms the AKP carried out from 2003–2006 limited the power of the national security council over the parliament; opened the judiciary to non-Kemalist candidates; and made other changes to reduce the influence of the military and traditional bureaucracy, also a bastion of Kemalism (Patton, 2013). Once the reforms were carried out and the military had been legally reined in, Erdogan pursued EU membership less urgently, by July 2007, which had much to do with Erdogan’s sense that the EU betrayed Turkey over a potential solution to the Cyprus conflict (Robins, 2013, pp. 382–383). As will be discussed below, Turkey still needs positive relations with the EU to address audience demands for economic interests.

The desecuritization of Turkish foreign policy was another change, embodied by an increased focus on economic relations, a shift in approach to Iraq, and promoting the Israel-Syria peace process as part of de-emphasizing military and intelligence relations with Israel. This policy was considered the most “acceptable” because it would reduce the significance of the military in foreign policy, further reducing its prestige at home. Increased trade relations with several regional states also contributed to lessening the role of security considerations.

In Iraq, Turkey had focused solely on the Kurdish issue, but under the AKP a decision was made to develop and grow its political relationships, even with controversial figures such as Moqtada al Sadr. And with the Kurds, the ties with the main Kurdish parties in Iraq, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), “were given a consciously commercial focus, rather than concentrating exclusively on security rivalry, as in the past. The emerging economic interdependencies between the KDP and Turkey were particularly lucrative for both sides and, nearly a decade later, continue to flourish” (Robins, 2013, p. 387).

Erdogan sought to play a mediating role between Israel and Syria, as part of a broader effort to desecuritize relations with Israel. Previous governments viewed a security alliance with Israel as a core piece of its effort to fight domestic rivals, the PKK, and Islamists. A 1995 National Security Policy document held that the greatest threats to Turkey were irredentism (PKK threat) and “religious fundamentalism,” linking these threats to Syria and Iran. These concerns drove intelligence and security cooperation with Israel and reinforced the significance of the Turkish military. By restructuring the relationship with Israel and pushing for peace between Israel and Syria, the AKP approach would delegitimize the central role of the military (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, p. 571). Eventually Erdogan would cut off relations with Israel after the 2008–2009 Gaza War, only restoring them years later in the summer of 2016 when the Erdogan government was becoming increasingly isolated.

The second major threat to regime security and Turkish integrity as a whole is the Kurdish question. Thus, when making decisions, the acceptability heuristic is operationalized in terms of how a policy helps address the Kurdish threat, an issue that is inherently intermestic in nature. A brief background is provided. The Kurdish people are a transnational ethnic group with its largest population in Turkey where they make up approximately 20% of the population (Patton, 2013, p. 492). As part of the nation-building project, the use of Kurdish language, dress, and names was illegal. The Turkish government in the 1980s increased repression of the Kurds further, and in 1984 an insurrection by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party, formed in November 19781) had begun (Patton, 2013, p. 494), using neighboring regions including Northern Iraq and border areas in Syria. Saddam Hussein, and eventually the U.S. coalition, allowed the Turkish military to pursue the fighters into Iraq. Syria, upset by Turkey’s control of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers through a massive dam project, permitted PKK fighters and leader Ocalan to stay safely in Syria, in hopes it would give Syria leverage in water talks. In 1998, Turkey demanded that Syria expel Ocalan, with troops ready to invade if Syria did not comply. This marked the beginning of a new relationship with Syria (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, p. 576).

Beyond viewing the Kurdish issue as a threat to state security as a whole, the AKP’s legitimacy would be at stake if the government fails to protect its people. Further, Erdogan and the AKP view the Kurdish political party as a threat to the AKP’s electoral success. Because the AKP campaigned on notions of social and cultural pluralism and respect for human rights, backed up by its commitment to EU-required reforms to reinforce those values, many Kurds were part of the historic alliance that voted the AKP into office in 2002, along with moderate Islamists and liberals (Patton, 2013, p. 485). During the first parliamentary term, the AKP was able to pass limited cultural rights for some broadcasts and private education in the Kurdish language. These changes and the positive movement toward EU norms in the first term led to a doubling of Kurdish support for the AKP in 2007, from 26% to 53%—far more votes than received by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DPT). In that election, though, the ultranationalist party MHP, vehemently opposed to these concessions to Kurds, drew attention to PKK attacks on Turkish targets, launched from Iraqi Kurdistan. The MHP went from zero to 71 seats in parliament (it increased its percentage from 8.3 to 14.3, but had zero seats in 2002 because of the 10% threshold rule). The AKP now had to pay more attention to the balance between the pressures of nationalists and those of Kurds and other minorities.

After losing Kurdish votes to the DPT in 2009 spring elections, Erdogan announced the lifting of more restrictions on Kurdish language and culture, with the intention of bringing the conflict to an end; he also offered amnesty to PKK fighters (Arsu, 2009; Patton, 2013, pp. 487, 494). The PKK praised the effort but demanded operations against it cease; opposition in parliament reiterated the long-held view that recognition of ethnic identity was a dangerous road toward the dissolution of Turkey (Arsu, 2009). Things heated up again when the government lashed out after PKK fighters returning from Iraq were welcomed with victory celebrations at the border. Over 1,000 Kurdish politicians, activists, lawyers, and others were arrested, accused of supporting the PKK. The DPT was outlawed, though it was replaced by another Kurdish party, the BDP (Patton, 2013, p. 494).

At the end of 2011, Erdogan announced the government was in negotiations with PKK leader Ocalan; after many months of talks, Ocalan issued a letter in Kurdish and Turkish that called for the end of armed struggle. The PKK announced in April 2013 that all forces would withdraw out of Turkey to Northern Iraq; the next steps were (1) for the government to set up commissions inside and outside parliament to move the democratization process forward; and (2) for the PKK to be integrated into civilian and political life after disarmament. The process has been slowed because the government side argues that the PKK has not removed all its fighters to Iraq and that nationalist parties in parliament are opposed to recognition of the Kurdish demands for more autonomy (International Crisis Group, 2013, p. 3). With this background in mind, we turn to the way the Kurdish threat has shaped policy.

Policy during the 2003 Iraq war was related to the Kurdish threat. The AKP-dominated parliament would not approve support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite months of talks, the invading coalition was not permitted to use the northern route from Turkey. While on the surface, defying a NATO ally was surprising, this is well-explained by intermestic policy. The choice of supporting the United States held out the possibility of strengthening of the cause of Kurdish separatism more broadly, as Kurds in the northern region had established an autonomous state in 1992, after the first Gulf War (Iraqi Kurdistan, now a federal region of Iraq). The choice was made to address this threat by, before the invasion, forming the Iraq Neighbors Initiative with Iran, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait (and later also Iraq). These states shared the concern that the disintegration of Iraq would pose a threat to all of them.

Before the Kurdish Regional Government in postwar Iraq cooperated on control of PKK camps after 2007, the Iraq war pushed Turkey and Iran together, too, in the effort to confront the PKK and its Iranian offshoot, PJAK (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, p. 576). The turn against Assad changed the relationship with Iran, however, since the latter backs the Syrian government with weapons and fighters (Iran denies the latter but their involvement has been documented; for example, see Wright, 2016).

Turkey’s position on Syria is largely driven by the Kurdish threat. As discussed below, the building of a positive relationship with Assad before the popular uprising of 2011 was part of the broadening audience strategy of Erdogan. Tying Turkey to the region had the goal of appealing to domestic constituents. Initially standing with Assad and trying to pressure him to reform (Stein, 2015) held out the promise that Syria would continue to support Turkey’s interests concerning the Kurds. Also described below, turning against Assad when he failed to stop crushing the revolt and engage in talks was part of Erdogan’s effort to find an “acceptable” policy in terms of boosting legitimacy of the AKP as a democratic regime that stands up for oppressed people. The Turkish decision to turn against Assad, calling for United Nations sanctions and a no-fly zone between the two states; Erdogan’s support for Syrian resistance parties (which became known as the Free Syrian Army); initial refusal to join the American anti-ISIS coalition in fall 2014; and the eventual decision to cooperate with the United States in July 2015 are all explained by the Kurdish threat. The acceptability heuristic here is that the policy must prevent Kurds from gaining territory and legitimacy in neighboring Syria, lest it be used to strengthen the PKK in Turkey. Recall that by 2011, Erdogan had made human rights concessions to Kurds in the face of nationalist party resistance and had plans to end the conflict in Turkey politically. PKK gains at that point would have been damaging to this effort.

After the break with Assad in August 2011, Erdogan’s government aided Syrian resistance groups, allowing them to use Turkey as a base for organization and support. This was driven by the fear that Assad would return to supporting the PKK. In July 2012, Assad removed most military forces from three Kurdish-majority areas, providing the opportunity for the PYD (Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat or Democratic Union Party) to declare autonomy (Stein, 2015). The PYD is a branch of the PKK, so this turn of events was very grave for Turkey vis à vis the Kurdish cause. Erdogan held that the PYD was “in league with” the Assad government. In November 2013, the PYD established an interim Kurdish government in Northern Syria in “Rojava” or West Kurdistan. Turkey allowed jihadists to cross into Syria through Turkey, as they fought Syrian regime forces and attacked the PYD (Cagaptay & Tabler, 2015; Park, 2015, p. 585). In the meantime, when the United States began to demand that Turkey allow U.S. attacks against ISIS from bases in Turkey, and Turkey join the coalition, such a policy would not pass the acceptability test so Erdogan said no. The United States was giving air support and ammunition to the YPG (the military organization of the PYD) in its fight with ISIS (the two groups are fighting for the same territory in Northern Syria). Also, the Turkish government fears that an escalation of U.S. support for the YPG in terms of heavy weapons would result in the PKK ending up with those weapons (Cagaptay & Tabler, 2015). Through Erdogan’s lenses, joining the coalition that works in concert with the YPG would only strengthen the Kurdish cause.

After months of negotiation, Erdogan agreed that Turkey would join the anti-ISIS coalition. Several factors produced this shift. First, in July 2015, a terrorist attack by a member of ISIS in Turkey killed 32 people and kicked off protests that Erdogan was collaborating with ISIS by not doing enough to fight the group in Iraq and Syria. With no agreed government in place, Erdogan called elections again for November 2015. In addition, peace talks with the PKK broke down and violence engulfed the Kurdish region (Southeast Turkey), as government strikes ended a two-year ceasefire. In this context, in October, 102 people died in the largest terrorist attack in Turkey’s modern history, targeting a rally for peace between the government and the PKK (Zalewski, 2015). Not acting to counter ISIS more visibly given its attacks on Turkish soil was endangering Turkish national security, according to protesters.

Second, he only agreed to join in fighting ISIS because in exchange the United States agreed to shift support to the Syrian Arab militias Turkey had been supporting—and away from the YPG (Barnard, Gordon, & Schmitt, 2015). At the same time as signing on with the United States, Erdogan launched attacks against the PKK in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, ending a two-year ceasefire that had contributed to keeping the peace in Turkey’s Kurdish areas (Barnard & Gordon, 2015). In this confrontation, the United States sees the Islamic State as the main focus, but Turkey sees Assad and the potential for Kurdish gains as the threat. Turkey could easily frame this shift to “give in” to the American demands that it join in the fight as in fact a victory for Erdogan’s agenda because the agreement was essentially creating the buffer zone Erdogan had long wanted “to curb devastating Syrian government airstrikes on opposition areas, to allow refugees in Turkey to go home and to insulate Turkey from the war . . .” (Barnard et al., 2015).

At the same time, Erdogan’s choice to make the agreement with the United States came in the month following the June election shock. With this decision, he manipulated the foreign and domestic policy environments to regain support at home from Kurds. At first glance it might seem that the launch of attacks on Kurdish areas in summer 2015—after losses to the HDP—would lead to more Kurdish support for the HDP, and certainly less for the AKP. Instead, after the November 1, 2015, elections, Erdogan’s party looked forward to four more years of single-party rule as the HDP lost more than one million votes to the AKP (Zalewski, 2015). With 49.5% of the vote, the AKP came within 13 seats of the supermajority needed to change the constitution toward a stronger presidential system (Toksabay & Karadeniz, 2015). In July and then October, ISIS attacks killed 135 people; Kurds were the targets. Further, fighting between the government and PKK had claimed at least 159 Turkish officials, 81 civilians, and hundreds of militants by the time of the November elections. While protests by Kurds after the terrorist attacks blamed Erdogan, his appeals focused on the threats to all Turkish citizens by the PKK and also from ISIS (but primarily the former). Observers claimed that the Kurdish vote shifted back to the AKP because the government’s relentless attacks on the PKK areas created a threatening environment: “What we are seeing is an election held in an atmosphere of war, threats, and of intimidation,” said one HDP member of parliament (Zalewski, 2015). Others might have thought that a majority government under Erdogan was needed to bring stability against the kind of ISIS attacks the country had just endured and the PKK violence. Erdogan’s decision to join the Americans in fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria allowed him to claim his government’s commitment to addressing both the Kurdish and the ISIS threat; the decision to fight Kurds at home and weaken them abroad increased regime security. A year later, it looks as though the United States is straddling a line between some continued support for the YPG on the ground, while keeping them out of the sporadic Geneva process to end the conflict and preventing them from taking a key corridor connecting separate Kurdish territories (Zaman, 2016). Table 1 summarizes this section.

Table 1: Framing threat strategy

Threat: Military

Threat: Kurds

Internal goal

Maintain party legitimacy; reduce power of military

Uphold state security against terrorism; protect electoral position of dominance

Foreign policy result

Demilitarize FP; change relationship with Israel

Working with others to counter support for Kurds

Specific foreign policies

Change of laws to reduce role of military (in accord with EU); New economically focused FP—desecuritization of Iraq relations; Hosting talks between Israel and Syria

Opposition to U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003; formation of regional group in Iraq; cooperation with KRG in Iraq; working with Iran to address PKK; nurturing Syria relationship; then turn against Assad and support for rebels and al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria; refusal to join U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition until United States. breaks with YPG (thus Syria policy shifts 3 times)

Broadening Audience

Satisfying the interests of the newly mobilized groups in Turkish society in order to maintain their support was a significant driver of the AKP’s intermestic policy. For a policy choice to be “acceptable,” developing state leaders are often not paying attention to views of the country as a whole; instead the leadership has to ask if the policy will satisfy those whose support he must have to maintain regime legitimacy and security. Recall that the identification of those constituents can be done by looking at a leader’s broadening audience strategy.

Maintaining support of the more traditional business groups that supported the AKP (called the “entrepreneurial ‘Anatolian Tiger’ base” by Altunisik & Martin) was part of the policy to deepen economic relations in the region. These groups were more conservative and religious, which made them comfortable doing business in the Middle East. Turkey’s exports in the region doubled between 2005 and 2010. Beginning in 2005 with the signing of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, Turkey and the Gulf states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman) signed in September 2008 the Memorandum of Understanding to put into force a free trade agreement (Hursoy, 2013, pp. 510–511). By pointing out the dramatically increasing imports from and exports to GCC states, as well as rising bilateral investment, Hursoy (2013) documents in detail the growing significance of economic relations between Turkey and the GCC region under the AKP. The Erdogan government also sees regional trade as especially benefiting its poorer regions; addressing poverty in these areas with large concentrations of Kurds is also hoped to defuse the Kurdish threat over time (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, pp. 579–580).

Connecting newly mobilized Turkish supporters who identify as Islamic and have a strong sense of transnational identity with other Muslims was another driver of Erdogan’s intermestic policy. The general turn to the region is also an example of this. In his speech after the 2011 election landslide victory, Erdogan not only greeted Turks but also the,

“sister people” of “Baghdad, Cairo, Sarajevo, Baku, Nicosia, and others, whom he knew to be “eagerly watching Turkey.” Furthermore, Erdogan declared his party’s victory to be a victory of hope for all oppressed peoples, adding that “Sarajevo has won as much as Istanbul; Beirut as much as Izmir; West Bank and Gaza as much as Diyarbakır” and that “the Middle East, the Caucuses and the Balkans had gained as much as Turkey.”

(Zarakol, 2012, p. 739)

Commitment to Islamic solidarity among AKP leaders tempered any criticism of illiberal regimes such as Iran or Syria, prior to the war erupting in Syria. Previous governments in the 1990s had argued for Turkey to play a regional leadership role since the end of the Cold War, but the AKP leadership was driven by a deeper identification with people across borders (Haas, 2013, p. 160).

Another example is the AKP shift in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Turkey under Erdogan began to support Hamas after the January 2006 Palestinian elections, which Hamas won, arguing that it was Turkey’s role to support democracy in the region. While not ignoring the fact that Hamas was classified as a terrorist group, he took the position that Turkey could “socialize and moderate Hamas” (Robins, 2013, p. 388). He also argued in other settings that the international community must do more to achieve justice for the Palestinians, a cause that resonated strongly in Turkey. Also, Turkey protested Israel’s summer 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon and 2008–2009 blockade of Gaza, and entirely broke relations with Israel after the killing of nine unarmed Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara, a ship in international waters that was protesting the blockade (Robins, 2013, p. 388).

Other policy that was pursued met the acceptability constraint by also serving the groups that identify with newly mobilized voters. Turkey took on several new leadership roles. In the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Turkey managed to have one of its own elected to chair the group for two terms, starting in October 2005. Also, Turkey pursued a commitment to good governance through many new avenues: it was given observer status at Arab League summits; it held a less developed nations summit in Istanbul in July 2007; in August 2008, it held a Turkish-African summit in Istanbul; it opened 21 new diplomatic missions in 2010–11; and it got elected as a nonpermanent member to the UN Security Council for 2009–2010, where it had not had a presence since 1961 (Robins, 2013, p. 389).

In a policy that combined a leadership role with an effort to promote diplomatic solutions to global challenges and with the Islamic solidarity idea, Erdogan’s Turkey tried to step into the Iran nuclear negotiations to head off the strengthening of UN sanctions on Iran. Working with Brazil, a proposal was worked out in May 2010 in which Iran would send its enriched uranium out of the country for processing, then it would be returned as fuel rods for a medical research reactor (Barrionuevo & Arsu, 2010). It did not get anywhere because it was rejected by the P5+1 negotiating group. Turkey responded by voting against the subsequent sanctions resolution (along with Brazil) in the Security Council (Altunisik & Martin, 2011, p. 572). This episode, along with others such as the effort to mediate in the Lebanon political crisis of 2011, gained Turkey prestige in the region (though the U.S. ally was not happy about the defiance at the UN). As political analyst Rami Khouri said, “It’s a very sophisticated and unique role that Turkey is playing, because it talks to everybody. I think most Arab countries are starting to look up to Turkey” (Wall Street Journal, 2011).

Working toward EU membership constrained the military threat; when we consider the concept of broadening audience, this policy also provided a boost for regime legitimacy. One of the main criticisms of the AKP after its rise to power was that it sought to create an Islamic state in Turkey; fear among liberals was widespread, despite party claims that this was not their intent. By pursuing EU talks, the AKP government showed that it wished to maintain and build significant linkages with this part of the Western world and make changes to enshrine a democratic culture in Turkey that is acceptable to EU norms. Further, it boosted Turkey’s standing in the Middle East region and globally as well, where a Turkey tied to the EU burnished its credentials as a world power (Robins, 2013, p. 383). Maintaining relations with the EU and trying to deepen them had the purpose of helping deliver on economic promises. As Robins describes, “With roughly half of Turkish trade going to EU member countries prior to the 2008 credit crunch, and the majority of foreign direct investment (FDI) coming from Europe, it made sound material sense” to keep these relations strong (2013, p. 383).

Ultimately, Erdogan lost some interest in the accession process after disappointing talks in October 2005, due to frustrating negotiations over Cyprus and continued resistance to Turkish membership most embodied by French President Nicholas Sarkozy (Robins, 2013, p. 386). Also, in 2013 the EU began to question the process after major state crackdowns on street protests in Turkey. Still, it seems that Erdogan’s early EU policy was chosen because it was acceptable for addressing his varied audiences (and meeting the military threat, noted in the previous section Framing Threat).

Despite sometimes taking a hard position, Erdogan views the international community generally and the West as one of multiple constituencies. As Erdogan was increasingly criticized at home and abroad for authoritarian tendencies, a significant driver of Erdogan’s intermestic policies was the need to counteract internal and external threats to legitimacy as the head of a democratic regime. Thus, his foreign policy focused on the moral superiority of Turkey in terms of democratic principles and norms of legality. As one scholar put it, “Without that promise of democracy and pluralism, Turkey would be nothing more than Iran without oil” (Zarakol, 2012, p. 743). Indeed, “Turkey has been increasingly a role-model and a trade partner, especially for the Middle East, because it seems to hold out the promise of reconciliation between modernity and religion, democracy and development, East and West, consumerism and tradition” (Zarakol, 2012, p. 743). This perspective drove Erdogan’s response to the Arab Spring when it arose in Tunisia and Egypt; having no countervailing interests in these countries, Erdogan took the lead on praising the movements. Taking with him a delegation of 200 businessmen, he went on a tour in September 2011 to post-revolutionary Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya (Hursoy, 2013, p. 507). He spoke to the crowds in these states in a way that connected them to his constituents in Turkey, as if they were all part of his audience. His emphasis on economic development and democratic government was aimed at reinforcing legitimacy at home. His speeches in the region during the Arab Spring appealed to “Islamic values such as justice, brotherhood, and solidarity, while at the same time encouraging Muslim masses to take further steps toward democracy.” One scholar notes that he was “lionized across the region for his commitment to Islamist politics, pluralistic constitutional democracy and energetic economic development” (Sadik, 2012, p. 304). Things grew more complicated when uprisings began in Libya and Syria, however, because the situations there clashed with other intermestic policy demands, especially the economic interests of Turkey as a whole and those of the Anatolian businesses loyal to the AKP. In the end, as elaborated well by Haas (2013), Turkey took an increasing interest in ideological promotion.

In Libya, Erdogan stood against the Western, NATO-led coalition to bring down Qaddhafi at first. In accordance with its new policy to invest in the region and desecuritize its foreign policy, Turkey had about 30,000 people working there, plus about $1.5 billion in equipment on the ground. Turkish companies also had about $15 billion worth of contracts (mostly in construction) spread among hundreds of companies. At first framing his position as one of anti-imperialism, Erdogan rejected the “foreign intervention in friend and brother Libya” (quoted in Haas, 2013, p. 153). Turkey did not cooperate with efforts mandated by the UN to freeze Qaddafi’s assets and criticized the no-fly zone designed to protect civilians from the regime (Haas, 2013, p. 153). Erdogan worked via telephone to talk down Qadhaffi but did not succeed. Amid protests against Turkey within Libya, Erdogan “played it safe” and lined up with NATO for the airstrikes that began in March 2011. It became increasingly apparent that the ideological leadership Turkey had begun to establish was under threat, and the calculation was made that the soft power accrued from that was more significant for international and thus domestic legitimacy purposes than the investments (Haas, 2013). Once Benghazi was secure, Erdogan offered new investment and assistance, helped draft a road map for its future governance, and was an active member of the Libya Contact Group, hosting several meetings in Istanbul (Robins, 2013, pp. 391–392). While he started out torn by competing demands, in the end Erdogan managed to end with the frame that he was on the side of the people. Later, when the Egyptian military overthrew popularly elected Morsi, Turkey condemned the military overthrow but has not been able to do much to change the situation on the ground.

Syrian policy is another example of the tension between the earlier foreign policy shift to focus on greater regional economic relations; in fact, Syria “was the crowning jewel of the zero problems strategy” (Haas, 2013, p. 161), but now the uprising was in a state with which Turkey shares a border. In the past, the Syrian regime had been a supporter of the PKK, but it renounced this policy in the Adana Agreement of 1998. Once in power, the Erdogan regime engaged in increasingly cooperative relations with it, even trying to broker peace between Israel and Syria in 2008, though the talks fell apart. Syria and Turkey had established a visa-free travel system and had increased bilateral trade by a huge factor so that by 2010, Turkey was Syria’s largest trading partner (with a total of trade between the two at $2.4 billion that year). The two leaders were even said to be friends (Robins, 2013, p. 394). In the face of Arab Spring protests in Syria, Erdogan had to find balance between economic interests and continuing to burnish credentials as an upholder of democracy. He chose to push Assad, issuing demands in the summer of 2011 to stop the violence. The deadlines for cooperation passed, and Turkey cut off ties; by the end of September Ankara had imposed sanctions. This was followed by the establishment of an office in Istanbul by the opposition Syrian National Council (Robins, 2013, p. 395). Turkey called for a buffer zone between Turkey and Syria, enforced by allied militaries, but did not create a buffer zone of its own, resisting military involvement. Over time the situation grew worse and refugees streamed into Turkey (the country has the world’s largest refugee population); as we know now, refugees have flooded Europe as well. Undoubtedly, the Syrian situation has not taken the path that Erdogan and other AKP leaders wanted, and perhaps no one would have expected Russia to intervene in a way that kept Assad fighting far longer than he would have otherwise. Still, the decisions to reverse the “zero problems with neighbors” strategy with Syria, then to support Syrian rebels, then to get more involved fighting ISIS were driven by noncompensatory, intermestic decision-making. In this model, “acceptable” policy choices were deemed so because they were thought to best address key threats to the regime and meet demands of specific audiences, which in turn would preserve regime security and legitimacy. Table 2 summarizes this section.

Table 2: Broadening audience strategy

Newly mobilized economic interests

Newly mobilized Islamic and other more traditional groups in Turkey

Liberals, Western states, NGOs, and IOs

Internal goal

Promote regime legitimacy via delivering on promises

Promote regime legitimacy via identification and representation

Promote regime legitimacy against critiques of authoritarian tendencies

Foreign policy result

Economics-driven policy

New leadership role in Middle East, Central Asia, Balkans

Support for Arab Spring uprisings; continued pursuit of EU relations

Specific foreign policies

Support for EU membership; bilateral and regional trade agreements; increased investment in region; initially promoting diplomatic solution to Libya situation/initially against NATO intervention; initial bilateral pressure on Assad in Syria

“Zero problems with neighbors” and “strategic depth” policies; spoke as representative of Islamic and impoverished peoples; support for Hamas; working with Iran on nuclear deal (proposal with Brazil) and defiance of United States with sanctions veto

Turn against Qaddhafi to join NATO; joining condemnation of Assad; allowing Syrian refugees in; support for Free Syrian Army, etc.; standing against ousting of Morsi in Egypt


Global South scholars have taught us that foreign policy decision-making in the non-Western environment is marked by contexts that are different from the Western settings that tend to be the locus for development of FPA approaches. By integrating several core ideas from Global South scholars with noncompensatory decision-making models in FPA, we have new lenses by which to explore and comprehend foreign policy choices that might otherwise be puzzling. If we keep domestic and international (foreign) policy separate in our models, we are missing a key dimension of non-Western and Global South politics: Underdevelopment of regime security and the legitimacy that helps provide it are tied to interests and identities that are transnational in nature. It stands to reason that leaders will address the challenge by engaging in intermestic policy. The strategy analysis tool can be used to look empirically at this policymaking.

A case was presented to illustrate these ideas—Turkey’s intermestic policy, primarily regarding shifts in its regional relations and its global role. This case shows how important it is for us to find tools that enable the measurement of this political context as it really is: with the search for legitimacy and survival operationalized in terms of threats and constituencies that both defy classification as either domestic or international. This effort demonstrates how a seemingly irrational policy makes sense using the noncompensatory decision rule, if we can find ways to measure “acceptability” from an intermestic perspective. With insight from Global South scholarship, prominent models in FPA such as poliheuristic theory can be greater specified for these varied systems. Surely there is not a shortage of foreign policy puzzles in other cases “beyond North America” (Brummer & Hudson, 2015) or Europe to which the model can be applied.


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(1.) The PKK is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, the EU, NATO, and others; it is not designated as one by the UN, Russia, China, India, Egypt, and others.