Democratic Accountability and the Use of Force in International Law

By Charlotte Ku; Harold K. Jacobson | Go to book overview

3 Domestic political factors and decisions
to use military forces

Karen A. Mingst

There is little systematic information about why states choose to make substantial commitments to multilateral security activities. Much of the literature points to states as unitary actors acting according to national interests, yet the unitary actor approach does not provide an appropriate framework for analyzing decisions in democracies to have forces deployed under international institution auspices. Even in the case of established democracies, enabling or constraining domestic considerations are curiously missing from most of the literature. This book fills this gap.

This chapter examines factors relevant to the decision of democratic states to commit to using force under international auspices. Scholars need to break open the shell of the unitary state and probe multiple, often conflicting, interests of the political culture; domestic political relationships, including the military; and societal groups. This task is especially important in discussing democracies, since they provide key leadership for peacekeeping and enforcement actions.

This chapter focuses on cultural, political, and societal factors which are part of the calculus of a democratic state's decision to make and keep an international commitment to use force. Both formal constitutional provisions and informal practices developed over time make a difference. After all, democracy is a system in which elites are held accountable for their actions and decisions. To what extent do formal and informal domestic political and societal factors explain the commitments they make?

In focusing on domestic factors, the chapter builds on Lori Damrosch's chapter on state legal structures. While decisions to commit troops to fulfill international obligations are taken within the legal parameters of the structural relationship between the executive and legislative branch, political factors determine that law in the first place. Political actors interpret and reinterpret the legal provisions.

The legal provisions designed to insure accountability in democratic states provide a foundation, but how those provisions are utilized or not utilized, modified, or sometimes ignored is a result of domestic politics. Such decisions reflect characteristics of the political culture and of

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