TWO-LEVEL GAMES AND THE POLICY PROCESS: Assessing Domestic-Foreign Policy Linkage Theory

By Noone, Harry | World Affairs, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

TWO-LEVEL GAMES AND THE POLICY PROCESS: Assessing Domestic-Foreign Policy Linkage Theory


Noone, Harry, World Affairs


After more than a decade of negotiations, an agreement was reached between the international community, led by the United States, and Iran over its nuclear development program in July 2015. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) certified that Iran pledged to give up much of its ability to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for the removal of American economic sanctions and a European oil embargo which had negatively impacted the Iranian economy since 2006 (Hnrst 2016). This historic and controversial deal was made despite several factors that made it seemingly unlikely, including the very political culture of both the United States and Iran. Consider the widespread hostility held by the United States toward Iran since its 1979 revolution and infamous hostage taking: the American public consistently displays a predominantly negative view toward Iran and rated the country its "number one enemy" every year from 2006 to 2012 (Hurst 2016, 550).' Consider also the Iranian public's deeply held beliefs toward its nuclear program: 98 percent of the Iranian public called it a "national right" to be able to develop nuclear energy, and 48 percent call nuclear weapons development a national right (Elson and Nader 2011, 11). How are we then to go about explaining how this deal was made?

It is evident that we cannot fully explain the JCPOA without the inclusion of domestic factors, as foreign policy cannot be properly understood without incorporating the influence of domestic politics (de Mesquita 2002; Moravcsik 1993). There is scarcely an act of foreign policy that does not have some connection to the domestic political scene. Thus, foreign policy makers operate in a unique space: they simultaneously look outward and inward (Putnam 1988). There is synergy between a state's behavior toward others and the political circumstances and events that exist inside that state. Yet, international relations scholars have tended to treat the international systemic level and the domestic state level separately, and they have struggled to properly incorporate influential domestic factors into theoretical models of foreign policy analysis. This article discusses efforts in the field of international relations theory to overcome this bifurcation of domestic and foreign policy. As the field has moved beyond the question of whether to include domestic factors to hoio best to do so, this study tracks the inclusion of domestic factors into foreign policy analysis, not by constructing a comprehensive view of this inclusion, but by looking at four specific policy frameworks and critiquing the way the frameworks assume and describe how foreign policy is made (Moravcsik 1993).

The discussion will first focus on a model that has undoubtedly advanced this particular field: the Two-Level Game, as first articulated by Robert Putnam in 1988. The Two-Level Game will then be held in comparison with the foreign policy applications of three frameworks that are influential in the policy process field more generally, yet underutilized in foreign policy analysis: the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF), the Multiple Streams Framework (MSF), and Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET). This comparison will be made to elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of the Two-Level Game with respect to three concepts: the question of rationality in decision making, the factors that drive dynamic agenda setting, and the strategic behavior of relevant actors. In the move toward a more apt inclusion of domestic political factors in foreign policy analysis, the main theoretical questions explored here are (1) How do the ACF, MSF, and PET frameworks supplement the Two-Level Game? and (2) Do the frameworks' assumptions of the policy process help expose theoretical weaknesses of the Two-Level Game, and if so, how might these frameworks alter our vision of how foreign policy is created?

Literature Review

In pursuit of causal explanations of foreign policy behavior, the study of international relations has largely been conducted at one of three levels (or "images"), proffered by Kenneth Waltz in the 1950s: the systemic level, where analysts seek policy explanations given a state's standing relative to the international system; the state or domestic level, where analysts consider the social, cultural, and political drivers of a given state's behavior; and the individual level, where a single statesman's personal and psychological motivations are scrutinized (Waltz 1959). …

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