Predicting a State’s Foreign Policy: State Preferences between Domestic and International Constraints


  • Author's note : Drafts of this paper were presented at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Workshop on “Foreign Policy Analysis,” Granada, April 2005, and at the Annual convention of the International Studies Association, San Diego, March 2006. I thank the participants of these workshops and the members of the Nijmegen Research Group on International Relations, particularly Bob Lieshout, Anna van der Vleuten and Bertjan Verbeek, for their useful comments on earlier drafts. Finally, I thank two anonymous reviewers and the FPA editorial team for their valuable comments.


In order to understand a state’s foreign policy preferences, we need to take both its domestic and international considerations into account. This article aims to contribute to the analysis of foreign policy by exploring the conditions under which states will either give precedence to domestic or international incentives. Two central variables are used to generate predictions on the expected primacy of either level. The first variable is “internal polarity”, that is, the degree of concentration of power in the hands of the government relative to society. The second variable is “external polarity”, referring to the degree of centralization of power in the international system. It will be argued that various combinations of scores on these variables affect the formation of foreign policy preferences differently. When internal polarity is low and external polarity is high, domestic considerations will be decisive. On the contrary, when internal polarity is high and external polarity is low, international considerations will be decisive. With respect to the other two combinations, process variables such as the degree of domestic mobilization and the sensitivity of the government are expected to gain particular importance in tilting the balance towards either domestic or international considerations. A preliminary test of the theoretical framework is provided by applying it to French and German preference formation on the 1988 CAP-reform and the agricultural aspects of the Uruguay Round of GATT-negotiations between 1990 and 1993.