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How Public Opinion Constrains the Use of Force

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  • Pages: 11
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  • Category: Democracy

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This article examines the effects of various motivations and demotivations pertaining to the use of force by American Policy-Makers. The article presents a case study of U.S. reaction to a foreign crisis in Somalia in 1991. The military response to the situation was called “Operation Restore Hope”. The author observes and examines several motives for administration’s decision to use military force. Included in these factors is a manifestation of Diversionary theory in that the author argues that one reason for the use of force later in the Clinton Administration was the impending political and electoral fallout of a domestic sex scandal involving President Clinton. The Diversionary theory is an element of how the public influences decisions on the use of force.

Tarzi, S. (2007) “Democratic Peace, Illiberal Democracy and Conflict Behavior” International Journal on World Peace, Vol. 24, 2007.

This article consists of discussion of Conflict behavior. It contrasts the typical conflict behavior between that of established, or older democracies, and that of newer or Illiberal democracies. Among other observations the author makes, she makes the claim that Illiberal, or developing democracies are more likely than developed democracies to engage in warfare for the sake of diversion of attention to domestic issues.

The author provides numerous cases-in-point to support the theory, but does not contrast the numbers of them or the circumstances surrounding them. The main conclusion of this study is that regimes in transition to democracy and illiberal democracies, including electoral democracies characterized by contested institutions or contested sectarian and identity groups, are highly predisposed to external conflict and diversionary war with both other democracies and non-democratic regimes. While lacking in empirical analysis, the study offers numerous case-specific examples in support of the claim.

 Levy, J. (1998) “Misperception and the Use of Force: A Commentary on Ralph White’s ‘American Acts of Force’” Peace and Conflict, Vol. 4, 1998. Pg. 129-136.

This article is an evaluation and analysis of a study conducted by Ralph White entitled “American Acts of Force”. White’s study is summarized by Levy in the article. Levy states that White examined twelve American conflicts tin the context of explaining these actions and their consequences in terms of psychological and political variables, and proposing guidelines for future policy. Levy critiques Whites measurement methodology on the positive outcomes of use of force. In this portion of his analysis, he points out White’s lack of acknowledgement of the diversionary benefits of the acts being discussed. That is, White dismisses out of hand the notion that diversion is a valid benefit even in terms of political capital. Levy also opines that While pays insufficient attention overall to the political benefits imparted by military action. Such benefits would include the effect of diversion of public attention from domestic issues.

Drury, A. C. (2000) “U.S. Presidents and the Use of Economic Sanctions” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 30, 2000

In examining the use of Economic sanctions in modern diplomacy, the Author discusses in great detail the factors that contribute to conflicts becoming violent. Among the theories discussed is the diversionary theory of war. This is emphasized in the article as a justification of the influence of domestic politics in determining when and if a particular conflict escalates from economic sanctions to armed conflict. The author concludes that while empirical studies and antidotal ones differ on the accuracy of the diversionary theory, the evidence is sufficient to support a conclusion that domestic p0olitical climate does, in fact, play a role in the determination as to whether a particular conflict will become violent.

McCargo, D. (2002) “Security, Development and Political Participation in Thailand: Alternative Currencies of Legitimacy” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 24, 2002.

On examining the social and political developments in Thailand, the author touches on an application of diversionary theory of war. The author suggests that the Thai conflict with Cambodia was little more than an effort by a militaristic government to distract the population of Thailand from internal problems of famine, poverty, disease and under-development. The author concludes by noting that military-derived governments are more likely to aggressively pursue international conflict in order to promote solidarity and loyalty where domestic circumstance would trend against such things.  This theory is similar to others that describe the use of diversionary theory’s tactics as a symptom of an underdeveloped government, either in quasi-democratic form, or in the form of despotic regime.

Benantar, A. (2007) “Egypt and the War on Iraq: Implications for Domestic Politics”. Journal of Third World Studies, Vol. 24, 2007.

This article argues, in part, that the Egyptian government took measures to control domestic sentiment against Egypt’s support of the war against Iraq by employing diversionary tactics. Among those strategies described by the author was the government uncharacteristically allowing public protests of government policy. The relative laxity of government response to these protests distracted public attention away from the reasons for the protests themselves. Even though it is not the war policy itself that is the impetus for the diversion, this illustrates the notion of a government knowingly adopting a contrary policy for the purpose of diverting attention from an unpopular stance in the foreign policy arena.

Enmark, C. & Michaelson, C. (2005) “Just War Doctrine and the Invasion of Iraq”. The Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 51, 2005.

This article is a critical analysis of the “Just War” doctrine both in general and as it related specifically to America’s invasion of Iraq. The author suggests that the “Just War” rhetoric used by President Bush was largely a smokescreen to divert attention from failures of the administration in other areas. These areas included a nearly complete absence of domestic policy initiatives, and a failure to locate and punish the authors of the terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001. The author argues that no matter what the “Just War” rhetoric, there are underpinnings of motivation that are largely political and economic. The Author argues that it is these motivations, primarily the diversionary theory, that led the administration to invade Iraq and precipitate the war in that region.

Klinkner, P. (2006) “Mr. Bush’s War: Foreign Policy in the 2004 Election”. Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 36, 2006.

Similarly to the article above, this article focuses on rhetoric that President Bush emphasized during the election of 2004. The author points out the disproportionate rhetorical energy devoted to the “War on Terror” and the war in Iraq. The Bush campaign made major political capital out of the perceived notion that the president handled both circumstances. The author extends this argument, theorizing that the administration deliberately embarked on an aggressive war to cover politically the facts of numerous other failures of foreign and domestic policy. Whatever these failures, they were overshadowed by the issue of the “War on Terror” and the war in Iraq. In these areas, the president had public opinion, in its majority, on his side. It was, according to the author, largely because of this that Bush secured reelection in 2004.

Adler, D. (2003) “Presidential Greatness as an Attribute of Warmaking” Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 33, 2003

Adler explores evidence of presidential awareness of “legacy” and “greatness” of 20th century presidents and how these perceptions, and others contributed to the decision making of leaders who contemplated going to war. Among the other motivating factors discussed in the article is the theory of diversion as a motivating factor in making war. Former presidents who wrote or spoke about being remembered clearly had an awareness of the impact of a war on such remembrances, but the nature of that impact changed after WWII. Until that time, leading a war was a near guarantee of legacy security. Historically, according to the article, no domestic issue has ever been commemorated or more closely related to a president who has also conducted a major military engagement. That changed early in the Cold War as military failures, relatively new to the American Political landscape, became increasingly common. Since that time, presidents have been more focused on tying their legacies to making peace initiatives, rather than wars. In either case, the author argues that war serves as a historical distraction from any other contemporary concern.

Kelman, I. (2006) “Acting on Disaster Diplomacy” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 59, 2006

The author defines “disaster diplomacy” as a reaction to an international crisis. Levels of response from isolationist ignoring of incidents to outright declarations of war are considered in the range of diplomatic responses to crises. In evaluating these various levels of response, and the motivation of leaders for employing them, the author makes reference to diversionary theory. The author points to the American foreign policy of aggression in the Middle East as a ploy, in part, to distract the public and the international community from the failure of the United States and its allies to apprehend those responsible for terrorists attacks including the bombing of the USS Cole, and the attack on the World Trade Center. The author argues that such motivation is detrimental to international relations because it introduces a level of unpredictability and irrationality in diplomatic decision making. This fact puts other nations at risk when negotiating diplomatically with a nation employing diversionary policies, and can render a nation “untouchable” in the realm of diplomatic overtures.

Hartnett, J. & Merceica, J. (2007) “ ‘A Discovered Dissembler Can Achieve Nothing Great’; or, Four Theses on the Death of Presidential Rhetoric in an Age of Empire”  Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 37, 2007.

The authors of this article trace the decline of political rhetoric as a the moral justification of international military aggression continues to decrease over time. As the title suggests, it is argued that rhetoric has become increasingly disingenuous as U.S. foreign policy goals went from self-preservation to Empire to political tool. It is the latter portion of this argument that relates to diversionary theory. The authors note an increasingly amoral pattern of stated foreign policy, beginning with the “colonize and civilize” justifications for imperial actions in Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines and other places. After a brief “renaissance” for WWII, the rhetorical pattern continued to decline. Cold war containment policy meant allying the US to leaders who did not share the ideals upon which the nation was founded. By the end of the cold war, politics was sufficiently cynical to utilize foreign aggression as a political tool of distraction from scandal (as in the case of Clinton) economic standstills (as in the case of Bush, Sr.) and other foreign and domestic policy failures (as in the case of Bush Jr.) The authord focus on how these changing motivations eroded the rhetoric and credibility of modern presidents, making it more difficult for them the “sell” a war to the people, even if their motives are those in keeping with american values and ethics.

Tarar, A. , (2004) A Formal Analysis of Diversionary War Incentives” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois Online: http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/0/8/4/4/6/pages84462/p84462-1.php

This article addresses inconsistent empirical findings relating to the hypothesis that internal conflict motivates external wars. (Diversionary Theory). The author attempts to frame the inconsistencies on the basis of the characteristics of the targets of these aggressive wars, rather than the internal motivations prompting them.

The author integrates this theory with a bargaining theory of war in which war is costly but not prohibitive.  By quantifying public acceptance as a function of voting results in subsequent elections, the author is able to quantify conditional situations in which a reliance on diversionary methodology can be beneficial. He further notes that the level of success garnered varies with the extent to which the pure strategy is used. One major weakness in this analysis is the use of voting outcomes as the sole measure of success in strategy. This is particularly troubling in incidents where the incumbent president does not seek reelection. Success then translates to another member of the incumbent political party, and many intervening factors could affect the outcome.

Cramer, K. (2004)“The Elusive Diversionary Theory of War and Panama, 1989: Using Qualitative ‘Tests’ Across Cases and Researchers to Break the Impasse” Paper prepared for the APSA conference, September 2004 Chicago, Illinois online: http://www.asu.edu/clas/polisci/cqrm/APSA2004/Cramer.pdf

This article explores the question as to whether the invasion of Panama in 1989 by the United States was a diversionary war. The author notes that existing quantitative analyses of the diversionary war theory have come to conflicting conclusions, with some results supporting the theory, while others found no correlation between internal problems and the likelihood of external conflict. The author points to these discrepancies as reflecting a need for more quantitative, or case-study analysis of the theory. The author applies four propositions of diversionary war theory as outlined by Hendrickson to the 1989 Panama invasion. Using these four propositions, the author concludes a finding of “probable” use of diversionary force in the case of Panama. The author notes that this finding actually contradicts Hendrickson’s despite the use of the same parameters and fact sets. This points to a weakness in methodology likely contributable to the subjectivity of the evaluator and the availability of reliable historical data.

Smith, A. (1996) “Diversionary Foreign Policy in Democratic Systems” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 40, 1996.  Pg. 133-153. http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/politics/faculty/smith/Smith96_diversion.pdf

This article specifically addresses the consideration of the use of force in foreign policy as a function of perceived utility in securing reelection. The author concludes that in cases of extremis, that is, when the subject leader either expects to easily win reelection, or knows that they have no chance of securing reelection, determinations as to use of force are uncolored by diversionary notions. However, when the reelection outcome is in doubt, governments tend to favor violent, adventurous foreign policy decisions. The author further notes that institutional constraints mitigate these biases. He further observes that this phenomena is present in all democratic countries, not just the united States. The math serves to demonstrate the existence of the bias toward or against the use of diversionary force in an election cycle; it does not address its effectiveness.

Sobek, D. (2007) “Rallying Around the Podesta: Testing Diversionary Theory Across Time” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 44, No. 1, 29-45 (2007)

In this work, the author expands on existing empirical research regarding the presence and use of the diversionary force theory. Noting the inconsistency of the existing empirical data, the author attempts to broaden the scope of the data by including historical phenomena that transcend the modern historical data utilized in other studies. He further addresses the directional influence of the phenomena (IE: does the unrest lead to the policy, or vice-versa) The author’s analysis findsmodest support for the diversionary hypothesis. Oligarchies are more likely to initiate wars during periods of domestic unrest, while republics tend to initiate wars against city-states that experienced a republican reversal.

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