Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Foreign Policy Change in Latin America

Merke, Federico, Diego Reynoso, and Luis L.Schenoni (2020) "Foreign Policy Change in Latin America: Exploring a Middle-Range Concept." Latin American Research Review, forthcoming, pp. 1-33.

Abstract (full text here):

In this article, we examine patterns of change and continuity in Latin American foreign  policies. We do so by asking two interrelated questions: How can we conceptually and empirically account for foreign policy change? And why do states change their foreign  policies in Latin America? To answer these questions, we used the results of a new expert survey on foreign policy preferences in the region between 1980 and 2014. The results we obtained using both linear and non-parametric specifications are very clear and consistent: presidential ideology is what matters the most. Simply put, a change in the ideology of the president produces a change in foreign policy that is almost equivalent in magnitude, all other theoretically relevant factors set to their means.
Using a survey of experts, this article confirms what has often been argued, that Latin American presidents drive foreign policy. Therefore it can change dramatically according to ideology.  The authors note that presidents can be limited by state bureaucracies (i.e. the infamous "deep state") but their whims matter. The international system matters but again, presidents have a lot of leeway.

From a theoretical perspective, this raises the structure/agency issue (though it is not their specific goal). On the one hand, presidents can make a lot of changes. On the other, they face structural restraints at the international level. Peripheral realists (a theory developed in Latin America) have made the argument that presidents can and should make decisions for the good of their own citizens, and the international system does not necessarily make that impossible. However, they have to be cognizant of what decisions might generate backlash (i.e. from a hegemon) and be wary of making them.


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