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Davis Researchers Seminar

Date: 
Mon, 11/12/2017 - 12:30 to 14:00

Location: 
Room 3602, Social science
Foreign Policy Anarchy and Sabotage in Coalitions: Cases from Britain and Israel
Uncovering how multi-party coalitions shape foreign policy decisions is of growing interest as coalitions become an increasingly common type of government. Mintz and Wayne have recently described the phenomenon of polythink, a decision making syndrome in which “different members in a decision-making unit espouse a plurality of opinions”, leading to “intragroup conflict and a fragmented, disjointed decision-making process.” This paper explores expressions of polythink in parliamentary democracies with multi-party coalitions, based on recent cases from Israel and the UK. It finds that in multi-party coalitions, disagreements can lead not only to sub-optimal decisions or deadlock – the focus of research on coalitions to date – but foreign policy anarchy, whereby contradictory policies are pursued simultaneously by political rivals within the same government. In some cases it can lead to foreign policy sabotage, where a subset of the coalition actively seeks to undermine a policy being pursued by their coalition partners, using whatever bureaucratic tools they have available to them. Foreign policy anarchy and sabotage are more likely to occur in parliamentary democracies where coalition partners are in direct competition, or represent significant ideological fissures within the state. Under such conditions, notional rules of collective responsibility can quickly evaporate. The identification of foreign policy anarchy and sabotage in democratic coalitions prompts a fundamental reassessment of the notion of the state as a unitary actor, in cases where political rivals within multi-party coalitions have significant autonomy over separate but interrelated decisions.
Lecturer: 
Dr. Toby Greene