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With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, a number of small states have entered upon the world scene.(1) How has the international environment affected the democratization process in these emerging states? Now that democratic institutions have been selected, how will this domestic regime choice affect their foreign policies?
International relations (IR) theory offers little help in answering these questions. While IR theorists have addressed the foreign policies of great powers, they have largely ignored the study of small states. Moreover, even when scholars do refer to weak states, systemic rather than domestic factors are accorded causal primacy. The received wisdom in the field is that domestic determinants will be less salient when studying small state behaviour because external constraints are more severe and the international situation is more compelling. Including domestic affairs in our analysis would only detract from an already satisfactory explanation based on the small state's position in the international system and its interaction with the great powers.
Given this scholarly consensus, small state foreign policy provides a unique opportunity for those scholars who insist that domestic politics matters in explaining international and foreign-policy outcomes. Put more formally, weak state foreign policy presents a crucial test for domestic level theory. It is precisely in such cases where the conventional wisdom suggests that international factors can adequately account for state policy. If we can show that domestic politics matters even in these instances where we would expect that it should not, then we will have provided the strongest possible support for domestic level theorizing.
This article is divided into three sections. In Section I, I review the received wisdom in the field which assumes that neorealism has the home-court advantage in explaining small state behaviour.(2) Assertions that international factors have causal priority in such cases are not uncommon. In fact, most students view small state behaviour as a function of either the international distribution of power or the balance of threat. Changes in small state foreign policies are considered isomorphic to fluctuations in the structure of the international system and/or the degree of threat posed by the great powers. In light of this scholarly consensus, small state foreign policy poses a hard case for domestic level theory while it is easy on alternative systemic/structural explanations. Thus a successful refutation of the received wisdom would pose an even more significant challenge to neorealism in other contexts - it would do much to legitimize domestic level approaches while seriously diminishing neorealism's claim for explanatory primacy in the study of international relations.(3)
In Section II, various domestic level theories of foreign policy are rejected in favour of an 'institutional' approach. Historical institutionalism suggests that we study the development of domestic rules and structures separately from their effects over time. This two-stage research strategy is necessary because the variables that are important for explaining institutional formation and change may be less important in accounting for subsequent state behaviour. For example, while international factors play a dominant role in predisposing statesmen towards particular democratic institutional alternatives, subsequent state practices may reflect these recent domestic institutional choices rather than the constraints of the international environment. Paradoxically, neorealism has greater explanatory power in accounting for domestic regime choice in emerging states than it does for explaining their subsequent military strategies.
In Section III, I review pre-1900 US domestic regime change and subsequent military strategy. American state building in the 1780s provides an opportunity for testing how the international environment influences the choice between alternative democratic institutional arrangements, if at all. The historical evidence suggests that systemic/structural conditions play a dominant role in democratic institutional formation and change. When emerging states are faced with severe external threats to their survival, regime reformers are more likely to choose presidential institutional features. When such exogenous pressures are absent, statesmen enjoy a wider range of alternatives. They may choose presidential type systems, but parliamentary institutions may also appear attractive.
US foreign security policy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also provides a ready testbed for judging the merits of a domestic politics alternative to the study of small state behaviour. Specifically, I identify the determinants of military strategy during the Quasi War (1798-1800); the War of 1812; and the Mexican-American War (1846-48).(4) Each case pits neorealism against the proposed domestic level argument. Since the two theories lead us to expect different foreign policies, I examine the actual outcomes to see which theory predicts more reliably. The domestic institutional argument gains credibility by providing the best explanation for US military strategies. The defeat of neorealism in this competition can be considered particularly significant because the theory fails in an area in which it claims to be strong.
The cases demonstrate how the rules and structures of presidentialism, rather than the constraints of the external environment, influenced US military strategies. The historical evidence suggests that US foreign policies during this period failed to reflect prevailing international conditions and can only be understood from a domestic level perspective. Specifically, domestic institutional features affected both the timing and substance of US military strategies. Systemic/structural factors lead us to expect foreign-policy behaviour which is not borne out by the empirical evidence. The proposed domestic level approach provides a closer historical fit.
In conclusion, the article suggests that the kinds of causal arguments appropriate for explaining state choices during periods of crisis when domestic institutions are first created, may be less appropriate in later periods - while the external environment affects domestic institutional development, these institutional designs will condition subsequent foreign policy outcomes. Neorealism assumes that such domestic regime type has only a limited affect on a state's foreign policy, if at all.(5) According to neorealism, domestic politics can be 'black boxed', because, whatever their different internal characteristics, all states must nevertheless act in similar ways to ensure their security in a self-help world. Past research on small states has relied on this view of international relations. The scholarly consensus views small state behaviour from a state-centric perspective in which foreign-policy outputs are a response to external constraints. By contrast, I argue that whether international or domestic factors matter more is an empirical question and should not be assumed a priori. In contests between levels of analysis, neither domestic nor international arguments automatically win.
I. HOW SHOULD WE STUDY SMALL STATE FOREIGN POLICY?
The Scholarly Consensus
While mainstream IR has largely ignored the study of weak states, scholars have suggested that we can account for their behaviour by focusing on the effects of the international system. The reasoning is as follows: since small states are more preoccupied with survival than are the great powers, the international system will be the most relevant level of analysis for explaining their foreign-policy choices. Because weak states are typically faced with external threats to national survival, foreign policy will reflect an attentiveness to the constraints of the international environment and foreign-policy goals will be less constrained by the domestic political process. By contrast, domestic politics will necessarily play a greater role in an explanation of great power foreign policy. Generally speaking, great powers are faced with a lower level of external threat in comparison to small states and thus have more options for action. This increased range of choice will tend to make foreign policy formation more susceptible to domestic political influences. Consequently, unit level variables cannot be ignored when explaining great power foreign policy.(6)
Arguments that presume the salience of different levels of analysis in the study of great versus small state behaviour have been raised in several seminal texts. Well-known early examples include Wolfers and Rosenau. The former, in his famous analogy of the 'burning house', emphasizes that states' fear for survival is a variable rather than a constant and that 'the closer nations are drawn to the pole of complete compulsion', the more they can be expected to conform in their behaviour and act in a way that corresponds to structural models.(7) For Wolfers, the need to analyse decision making and domestic politics is most essential in the study of great power foreign policy, where environmental constraints are less severe and hence differences in state behaviour are more pronounced. Similarly, in assessing the relative explanatory power of structural and domestic factors in foreign policy, Rosenau suggests that the international environment will be more important in an analysis of small state rather than great power foreign policy.(8)
In recent years, this scholarly consensus has been reinforced. It is generally assumed that because of the different international contexts in which small and large states operate, their foreign policies will reflect different sets of constraints. Domestic level pressures will have more relevance for explaining the foreign-policy choices of states which are less exposed to the international environment. For example, Jervis argues that the security dilemma is particularly acute for small states that cannot afford to be cheated and are less likely to be buffered from the consequences of foreign-policy mistakes. Unlike great powers, small states lack a 'margin of time and error' when responding to external exigencies. Since the costs of being exploited are much higher for small states than they are for great powers, the former will feel the effects of anarchy to a greater extent. Consequently, statesmen in small states will need to be 'more closely attuned' to external constraints than will great power leadership.(9)
Similarly, Snyder assumes that the study of small state and great power behaviour require different analytical foci. He points out that 'among the great powers, domestic pressures often outweigh international ones in the calculations of national leaders'.(10) Since great powers 'enjoy a substantial buffer from the pressures of international competition', domestic political explanations are good predictors of their foreign policy strategies. When studying the foreign policies of small states, Snyder does not expect domestic political theories to fit as well. Whereas 'great powers adapt their foreign strategies to their domestic circumstances', small states are more 'exposed to the vagaries of international security and economic competition'. Since small state foreign policy strategiew will reflect an attentiveness to external exigencies, international/structural explanations should suffice.(11)
Like Snyder, Schweller argues that domestic level explanations will be less useful when it comes to small states. According to Schweller, domestic institutional constraints explain why great power democracies have consistently pursued foreign policies short of war when confronted with rising challengers. By contrast, small democratic states 'have not had their foreign policy options constrained by those [domestic political] elements that have ruled out preventive war for other democracies'.(12) Rather than being susceptible to domestic level influences, Schweller concludes that 'extreme systemic constraints' can account for weak state foreign policy and military behaviour.(13)
Walt concurs with this received wisdom. In explaining the alliance patterns of small states, he suggests that weak states are more likely to bandwagon with an aggressive great power than balance against it. He attributes this foreign policy strategy to the position of small states in the international system. Since weak states are vulnerable to the aggressive demands of great powers, they will ally with a dominant power in order to avoid immediate attack. Bandwagoning is likely to be a preferred alliance strategy when the threatening great power is geographically proximate and has a strong offensive capacity as well as when alternative great power allies are unavailable.(14) Labs' recent study of small state alignment similarly concludes that systemic-level conditions determine the foreign policies of weak states. Like Wait, Labs argues that whether weak states are more likely to balance or bandwagon against a great power threat is a function of systemic factors, such as geographic proximity and the availability of alternative alliance options.(15) He concludes that neorealism is 'powerful in predicting weak state behavior'.(16)
Lastly, in their study of state behaviour in the post-cold war era, Goldgeier and McFaul argue that while domestic politics will have an increasing influence on great power foreign policy, the behaviour of small states on the periphery of the international system, will continue to reflect structural/systemic constraints: 'structural realism is inadequate to explain the behavior of states in the core but is relevant for understanding regional security systems in the periphery'.(17)
To what extent has the small state literature reflected the scholarly consensus found in mainstream IR theory? We would expect that those works specifically devoted to the study of small states would question the received wisdom's empirical validity. Yet, 'to a large extent, small states research concentrates its efforts on the level of structurally determined behavior patterns. All authors, to some degree, start from the assumption that the structural attributes of smallness are by far the most important, if not the only, criteria that determined small states' policy'.(18)
Analysts typically assume that because small states lack the necessary self-sufficiency to defend themselves against great powers, they will be 'continually preoccupied with the question of survival'.(19) Since small states have both more to fear as well as more to lose, structural constraints and incentives will exert a powerful influence on the decision-making calculus. For example, in a recent study of small state security and foreign policy, Handel argues that
domestic determinants of foreign policy are less salient in weak states. The international system leaves them less room for choice in the decision making process. Their smaller margin of error ... makes the essential interests of weak states less ambiguous. Kenneth Waltz's 'third image' is therefore the most relevant level of analysis.(20)
Much of the small state literature tends to concur with Handel that the international level of analysis is a good predictor of small state foreign policy. For example, in Fox's seminal study of small state behaviour during the Second World War, foreign policy is largely considered a response to external conditions, such as the degree of great power competition and the demands made upon the small state by great power belligerents.(21) Similarly, Paul's recent account of small state military strategy suggests that their strategic choices are primarily a reflection of external constraints and opportunities rather than internal pushes and pulls. Consistent with the received wisdom in the field, he argues that a small state's decision to wage war depends on systemic factors such as alliance support from other great powers and the anticipated reactions of the stronger state: 'the timing of war is greatly affected by a weaker state's . . . assessment of the loopholes in the opponent's strategy and tactics.'(22)
In sum, mainstream IR theorists in general, and most small state researchers in particular, explain small state foreign policy by focusing on the prevailing features of the international system and on small state-great power interaction. Bjol puts it well: 'For the small state, as Rosenau has pointed out, the environment is a much more important variable than for the great power, and hence any reasoning about its role should probably start by an identification of the type of international system in which it has to operate'.(23)
Challenging Neorealism in Its Own Backyard
The received wisdom in the field suggests that structural/systemic variables have the home-court advantage in accounting for weak state foreign policies. Given this scholarly consensus, the study of small state behaviour provides a unique opportunity for dealing neorealism a major blow as well as for demonstrating the merits of domestic level approaches to foreign policy analysis. Small state behaviour offers a particularly good test of neorealism because it is a crucial case. According to Stinchcombe, theories gain credibility by being pitted against each other in crucial experiments: 'by eliminating the most likely alternative theory, we increase the credibility of our theory much more than we do by eliminating alternatives at random'.(24) Posen claims that 'our goal of theory testing should be the construction of particularly difficult tests - tests that one intuitively expects the theory to pass only with difficulty'.(25) Similarly, Grieco notes that 'the most powerful way to test a theory is to determine if the propositions derived from it hold in circumstances in which they are unlikely to do so, and in which comparable but divergent propositions from competing theories very much ought to be validated'.(26)
Based on this criterion, small state behaviour is essentially a hard case for domestic level theory while it is easy on the alternative neorealist explanation. Since small state behaviour is likely to reflect the constraints of the international environment, it should offer the best confirmation of neorealist assertions. Indeed, neorealism should have little difficulty in explaining small state foreign policy because these cases are precisely where we would expect unit level influences to play a less significant role. Finding that domestic politics does indeed matter in these unlikely instances will challenge the explanatory power of neorealism while justifying the need for domestic level analysis.
II. DOMESTIC LEVEL THEORIES OF FOREIGN POLICY: TRADITIONAL APPROACHES AND HISTORICAL INSTITUTIONALISM
'Society' Versus 'State'
Challenging the scholarly consensus regarding the determinants of small state foreign policy requires that we test neorealism against a domestic politics explanation. The logical step would be to adopt a theory of domestic politics already advanced in the field. However, most prove insufficient in accounting for the foreign policies of internationally weak, democratic states.(27)
Liberal polities are constructed to allow for the participation of both state and societal actors in policy formation. Consequently, monocausal 'society' or 'state' centred theories will fail to capture domestic political processes adequately. Societal arguments, which view state behaviour as a function of pressures from domestic groups, often neglect the possibility that state actors and institutions can hinder or facilitate the capacity of these groups to influence policy outcomes. Moreover, such approaches often neglect that state actors can have interests and goals of their own, which may or may not coincide with societal preferences.(28)
On the other hand, state-centred approaches, which view foreign policy as the output of the administrative and decision-making apparatus of the state's executive branch, often neglect the fact that the successful implementation of state policy requires the co-operation of powerful societal groups.(29) Moreover, statist approaches commonly fail to take sufficient account of the more subtle forms of public pressure. For example, in democracies, the executive typically has institutional incentives to anticipate the reactions of domestic groups and to revise policies to accord with citizens' expected attitude towards future policies. Thus, while the executive may encounter little domestic opposition, statists are incorrect to infer that this consensus implies executive autonomy from societal forces.
Lastly, state-centred approaches which view policy outcomes as a function of organizational structure (i.e., the relative strength of the state in relation to society), obscure the role of political bargaining which inevitably occurs in all democratic states, whether 'weak' or 'strong'.(30) This 'domestic structure' approach identifies the boundaries within which political choices are made but fails to explain specific foreign-policy formation. Additionally, the domestic structure approach derives outcomes from fairly fixed contextual features. It assumes that political outcomes can simply be 'read off' an institutional configuration.(31) Consequently, the domestic political process which necessarily intervenes between state-societal preconditions and foreign-policy outcomes is underspecified.
The Institutional Approach
Institutionalism, often termed the 'new institutionalism' or 'historical institutionalism', addresses the shortcomings of both societal and statist approaches.(32) Indeed, an institutional approach is especially well suited for the study of foreign-policy formation in democratic states, because it attempts to account for the open interplay between state and society and the ways in which institutional designs impinge upon both state and societal actors.(33)
Central to institutionalism is the belief that factors internal to political institutions affect the flow of history. Without denying the importance of societal conflict and the calculations of self-interested actors, institutionalists posit a more autonomous role for institutions.(34) Two propositions are central to the institutional approach. First, institutional arrangements are said to influence the struggles between societal and government actors. They do so by providing the arenas within which social forces contend as well as by setting terms and available resources. Institutions constrain and empower policy makers by delineating specific repertoires of policy instruments, thereby influencing the strategies ultimately adopted: 'Once developed, . . . actors tend to view solutions to …