Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Political Party and Presidential Decisions to Use Force: Explaining a Puzzling Nonfinding

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

Political Party and Presidential Decisions to Use Force: Explaining a Puzzling Nonfinding

Article excerpt

Quantitative research on the use of force by the United States confronts scholars with a puzzle: in spite of strong conventional wisdom that Republicans tend to be hawkish and Democrats dovish, there is little empirical evidence that Republicans behave more aggressively than Democrats. More confounding is the fact that, on one hand, there is ample evidence that Republicans in Congress and in the general public have supported military spending and military intervention more than Democrats have during most of the post-World War II era. But, on the other hand, few of the many empirical studies of American foreign policy behavior have tested the hypothesis that these partisan differences have carried over into actual military action. The few that have conducted such tests find no evidence for it. What accounts for this nonfinding? Is the conventional wisdom wrong, or should we be rethinking models of partisanship and conflict behavior?

In this paper, we will present evidence that two limitations in the design of previous studies have likely produced the nonfinding. First, these studies have generally treated the Democrats and Republican as if they had consistently hawkish or dovish positions across the entire postwar era. In fact, research on the parties' foreign policy positions finds that they have not been consistent over time. Democrats were decidedly more hawkish than Republicans before the mid-1960s. In the mid-1960s, the parties effectively switched foreign policy stances, a fact documented in the historical and even quantitative literatures, but one neglected in examinations of party and uses of force.

Second, previous research has focused on relatively serious conflict events, mainly uses of force rather than more broadly conceived indicators of foreign policy orientation. The strategic behavior of potential target states makes it difficult to draw inferences about party differences based on these serious events. These events often occur at the end of a long chain of strategic interaction between the initiator and the target of the use of force. These events may attenuate the effect of each side's initial--perhaps ideologically tinged--intentions. Party differences, if they exist in foreign policy orientation, are more likely to be visible in analyses that include low-level events that precede the actual movement of military forces. Put differently, evidence of hawkishness should not be confined to major uses of force. Limiting analysis to these acts will miss most of the behavioral differences that a more realistic account of the role of party implies. Because previous research on the use of force has been concerned mainly with other theoretical issues, such as the diversionary argument, their tests have not necessarily been inappropriate, but have produced less-than-ideal tests of if or how partisanship matters to foreign affairs. On these grounds, we believe the role of party in shaping foreign aggression deserves reconsideration.

Rethinking the relationship of party and foreign policy on these two fronts leads us to a set of models that suggest strong party effects on American foreign policy choice. But the results suggest important two nuances to how party affects aggression. First, the fact that parties can change their policy positions must be considered. Because the parties switched their hawkish/dovish orientations in the 1960s, the effect of party on conflict behavior in our models also switches direction. Second, foreign observers see this same switch and change their own behaviors accordingly, suggesting an important strategic consideration regarding beliefs about partisan hawks or doves.

The remainder of this paper proceeds in four sections. The first outlines the broad evidence of party differences on issues related to the use of force and the contrasting paucity of evidence that Republican presidents are more likely to do so than Democrats are. The second sets out the limitations of previous research designs for testing the effect of party and outlines our strategy for overcoming these problems. …

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