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Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems

Alastair Smith
International Studies Quarterly
Vol. 40, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 133-153
Published by: Wiley on behalf of The International Studies Association
DOI: 10.2307/2600934
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2600934
Page Count: 21
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Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems
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Abstract

This article examines how reelection incentives influence foreign policy decision making in democratic states. A formal model characterizes how future electoral prospects affect a government's decision to undertake adventurous foreign policies. When governments are assured of reelection, they make unbiased decisions considering only international factors. Decision making is similarly unbiased when governments have no prospects of reelection. When the voters' evaluation of foreign policy outcomes could have an effect on election results then governments are biased towards violent, adventurous foreign policy projects. Institutional constraints are shown to reduce the magnitude of these biases. The bias in foreign policy decisions at the end of the electoral cycle influences decision making in other countries. As a nation approaches the end of its electoral cycle other nations are more conciliatory and less confrontational towards it. With endogenous crisis formation, the model provides an explanation for the empirical phenomenon that democracies are more likely to become involved in war early in their electoral term.

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