International Organization

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Politics at the Water's Edge: Parties, Voters, and the Use of Force Abroad

Joanne Gowa

Abstract

This article examines the effects of party politics and presidential election cycles on U.S. recourse to force abroad. I analyze a game-theoretic model to generate predictions about these effects. In the unique time-consistent equilibrium outcome of the one-shot game, policy varies across political parties. In a subgame–perfect equilibrium outcome of the repeated game, the use of force is invariant to the partisan composition of government. In neither case does policy respond to the electoral cycle.

An empirical analysis supports the predictions of the repeated game. Between 1870 and 1992, U.S. recourse to force abroad responds neither to partisan politics nor to the domestic political calendar. It responds only to changes in U.S. power status and to the advent of general wars.

Joanne Gowa is Professor of Politics at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.