Diversionary explanations are a key FPA approach to understanding how domestic politics shape foreign policy and, in particular, the resort to force and risk of war, arguing that increasingly vulnerable leaders manipulate foreign policy in order to enhance their domestic political position. This literature has emerged in major ways since Levy’s early critique in which he noted wide disparity between the lack of theoretical rigor and empirical findings in political science research and the richness of qualitative research by historians offering compelling cases of diversionary wars such as the First World War. Nearly three decades later, however, this situation has significantly changed. A vibrant political science literature has emerged that provides significant empirical evidence based on, first, longitudinal studies of mostly the U.S. case and the presidential use of force since World War II (WWII); and, second, cross-national studies that capture variance in the diversionary resort to force across regime types (and subtypes) and different international contexts. In contrast, historical literature on the origins of World War I (WWI) has come to view the German case as more complex and has placed it into comparative perspective with the other four great powers. Historical research suggests that leaders in all five powers faced rising domestic opposition in the prewar decades; that they subsequently adopted new (yet varied) political strategies for containing opposition; and, at the brink of war, that diversionary and other political motivations played out in indirect and different ways. This article reviews these literatures and suggests that there has been some convergence of themes in the research of political scientists and historians. Consistent with FPA approaches, these literatures point to complex patterns of domestic oppositions across different institutional arenas, contingencies affecting the willingness and ability of leaders to resort to diversionary force, the role of agency stemming from leader beliefs about political stability and the consequences of risking war, and the importance of decision making dynamics in the ultimate resort to war.
The observation that groups unify in the face of common threats is long-standing. At the level of the nation-state, this is called the “rally-'round-the-flag” phenomenon. In the case of the United States, the rally phenomenon is measured as a surge of public approval for the president when the nation is involved in an international crisis. Two hypotheses have been offered for why this surge of support occurs: (1) patriotism, as individuals respond to a threat by identifying with an in-group, in this case the nation and its president; and (2) opinion leadership, as the information environment changes because opposition leaders fall silent or support the president during a crisis and a portion of the public follows those elite partisan cues. Through three waves of scholarship, empirical evidence has cumulated about whether, when, why, and how much people rally in response to international crises (although much of the evidence is based on dynamics within the United States). The public’s reaction to a crisis is not automatic; sometimes public approval for the president goes up; other times the president’s approval ratings go down. A positive rally effect is associated with a variety of conditions, such as how prominently the event is reported, whether the White House actively frames the issue, the amount of criticism from opposition elites, and whether the country is at war or has recently concluded a war. The sizes of such rallies are variable, but on average, rallies in response to the deployment of force or international crises are small. Only wars (or other spectacular events like a large-scale terrorist attack) consistently provoke sizable rallies and these big events elicit an emotional reaction from citizens and a self-identification with the nation. Both hypotheses—patriotism and opinion leadership—are helpful in explaining why rallies occur and why they taper off over time. The “diversionary theory of war” or the “diversionary use of force” is, for obvious reasons, a companion literature to the scholarship on rally effects. The logic is simple: if the public rallies around its leader in the face of external threats, then the possibility exists that politicians will intentionally create crises or deploy military forces or start wars to enhance their own political fortunes. Scholars have spent much effort trying to locate patterns of diversionary behavior by American presidents and other world leaders with inconsistent and inconclusive results. But the cumulative findings from the rally-'round-the-flag scholarship show that leaders can’t expect much of a public rally from any but the most spectacular of international crises, such as full-scale war. These findings from the rally literature help to explain the lack of consistent empirical support for diversionary theory.
Mark L. Haas
Most of the world has experienced a revolutionary and unprecedented development over the course of the last century and especially since the end of the Second World War: significant population aging. By any standard measure—median age, the number of 60- or 65-year-olds and over as a percentage of a population, or old-age dependency ratios (the ratio of seniors to working-age adults), most of the world is significantly older today than in the middle of the 20th century, and the trend is accelerating. The world’s great powers have not been immune to this trend. To the contrary, many of these countries have been leading the way, aging faster and to a greater extent than most other countries. By 2050, the median age of China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States will be at least 40. Germany and Japan are currently two of the oldest countries in the world, and China is likely aging faster than any other country in history. How is the near worldwide phenomenon of population aging likely to affect international relations (IR)? Most scholars who have examined this issue have linked the potential effects created by aging to established IR theories. Most analyses that have developed around the issue of aging, in other words, have not created new theoretical approaches to the study of international politics. They have instead argued that aging is likely to affect key variables associated with existing IR theories, which will then tend to generate particular outcomes based on these theories’ predictions. The IR theories that studies of populating aging have most frequently tied into include ones from realist, diversionary war, and constructivist research programs. Many of the arguments that link the effects of aging to these theories reach opposite conclusions, with some predicting a much higher probability of international conflict due to aging, others the reverse. There are, however, very few empirical analyses that test these competing hypotheses, largely because aging is such a new phenomenon.
Ekim Arbatli and Cemal Eren Arbatli
Why do coups d’état happen? Although many studies have investigated this question, they pay relatively little attention to the international causes and ramifications of coups. Especially, empirical studies on the external determinants of coup risk and outcomes still remain limited. There are two current lines of research in this direction. The first line studies international linkages and coup risk, looking at the external determinants of coups: regional spillover effects, foreign linkage, and foreign leverage. A promising angle on this front is focusing on the role of post-coup reactions from international actors to illuminate how coup plotters shape their incentives under outside pressure. The second line of research investigates interstate conflict and coup risk, considering diversionary behavior and external threats as potential coup-proofing strategies. In this effort, studying the relationship between external threat environment and coup risk can be fruitful, whereas empirical tests of the classical diversionary war theory will yield relatively marginal contributions. Currently, three issues stand out in the empirical coup literature that should be further addressed by scholars. First is the need for more extensive and systematic data collection efforts to obtain detailed information about the identities, targets, and motives of coup perpetrators. Second, the external sources of leader insecurity beyond interstate conflicts remain an underexplored area. Third, although many studies have tried to determine when coup attempts happen, scholarly knowledge of when and how they succeed remains very limited. More work is needed to uncover the determinants of coup success across different regimes and leader survival scenarios.