When and How Parliaments Influence Foreign Policy: The Case of Turkey’s Iraq Decision


  • Authors’ note: An earlier version of this article was presented to the Departments of Political Science and International Relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, and at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, in New York in February 2009. We thank Brian Ripley for his comments, as well the participants of our panel and the audience in Ankara and New York. Professor Kaarbo thanks the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey and Bilkent University for a visiting scientist fellowship that supported this research.


Turkey’s decision on its role in the Iraq war in 2003 illustrates the power—and limits—of parliaments as actors in foreign policy. Traditionally, assemblies are not seen as important players in the foreign policies of parliamentary democracies. Instead, cabinets are generally considered the chief policymaking authorities. If the government enjoys a parliamentary majority, legislatures typically support the cabinet, if they are brought into the process at all. The March 1, 2003 vote by the Turkish parliament to not allow the United States to use Turkey as a base for the Iraq invasion challenges this conventional wisdom on parliamentary influence (in addition to many interest-based explanations of foreign policy). This paper examines this decision in the context of the role of parliaments in foreign policies and explores the relationships between parliamentary influence, leadership, intraparty politics, and public opinion.