Pie Crust Promises and the Sources of Foreign Policy: The Limited Impact of Accession and the Priority of Domestic Constituencies


  • Author’s note: We thank the Council on Foreign Relations for the International Affairs Fellowship that allowed Saideman to spend a year within the Pentagon on the Joint Staff. We are quite indebted to the officers of the Joint Staff’s Central and Eastern European Division, 2001–2002, for providing thoughtful insights into the processes discussed in this article, especially Chris Cook, Jim Church, Tom Eisiminger, Ray Hodgkins, Doug Legenfelder, and Jim Ransom. The fellowship, as well as the Canada Research Chair program, funded several trips to East Europe, for which we are quite grateful. Vania Draguieva, Gisele Irola, David Lehman, Claudia Martinez, Michelle Meyer, David Steinberg, Ora Szekely, and Lori Young provided valuable research assistance. Juliet Johnson, Carol Leff, Erin Jenne, Zsusa Cergo, Sherrill Stroschein, the reviewers, and the editors provided helpful comments. To be clear, all views expressed here are those of the authors and not those of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Joint Staff, or any other agency of the U.S. government.


This article considers the impact of international organizations on foreign policy, by focusing on two of the most powerful international organizations on the policy choices of countries seeking membership. Scholars have argued that applicants to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) have altered their policies, foreign and domestic, so that they can become members. We argue that conditions imposed on potential applicants have less of an impact than frequently argued as neither the applicants nor the existing members care as much about the formal criteria as is often asserted. Instead, we argue that domestic politics, particularly constituents’ preferences, is both logically and empirically prior to external conditions. Indeed, in some sense, NATO and the EU were quite lucky, as domestic conditions in most, but not all, Central and East European countries converged towards “European” expectations. We focus here on minority rights and border negotiations as these were not only highly visible, but of great import for political stability. We focus on some of the key episodes cited by conditionality theorists, and conclude by considering the implications for theory and policy.