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Doing something: neoclassical realism, US foreign policy and the no-fly zone, 1991-2016

Meibauer, Gustav (2017) Doing something: neoclassical realism, US foreign policy and the no-fly zone, 1991-2016. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.ec4fpfk8ydup


This thesis investigates the continuous use of no-fly zones across different US administrations. In doing so it seeks to advance theories of international relations and foreign policy, conceptualizations of foreign policy executive decision-making processes, and the empirical study of US administrations from 1991 to 2016. No-fly zones were ostensibly employed both for the protection of civilians in intra-state conflict and/or for coercive diplomacy. However, based on theoretical accounts as well as empirical observations, the no-fly zone is not in fact suited for these purposes. As the existing literature on coercive diplomacy, air strategy and no-fly zones is frequently grounded in rationalist and (structural) realist thought, it cannot easily account for continuous “sub-optimal” choices. Therefore, this thesis turns to neoclassical realism, and demonstrates the compatibility of ideational variables with realist ontology, epistemology and methodology. It employs ideas as an intervening variable in the transmission belt from systemic conditions to foreign policy choice to explain no-fly zone use in US foreign policy. In a permissive international environment, decision-makers use ideas to guide their interpretation of systemic conditions, and to wield them as tools of persuasion in foreign policy deliberations. Decision-making in the US foreign policy executive is then conceptualized as a competition between diverging ideas about systemic incentives and constraints, as well as about appropriate strategies to mobilize state power. Absent agreement or presidential leadership and under pressure to act quickly, decision-makers use the no-fly zone to patch over ideational divides in the foreign policy executive and “do something”. This suggested causal mechanism is investigated in three detailed case studies on US foreign policy towards northern Iraq, Bosnia, and Libya. Three deviant case studies on decision-making vis-à-vis Kosovo, South Sudan/Darfur, and Syria delineate scope conditions and illustrate the causal primacy of systemic factors in determining US foreign policy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Gustav Meibauer
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Dodge, Toby

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