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Populism and Foreign Policy

What are the implications of the global rise of populism for international politics? Episodes such as Brexit or US President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran Agreement suggest that populists in power fuel international tensions, weaken multilateralism and undermine global governance. However, existing preliminary work on the Global South shows that this is not automatically the case. The project seeks explanations for this variance in the effects of the formation of populist governments on foreign policy.
DFG, 2021-2024

Research Questions

The project aims to examine the effects of populism on foreign policy in a systematic and comparative way and to build theory in the process. The central question is: To what extent and why does the formation of populist governments lead to foreign policy change?

Contribution to International Research

Episodes such as Brexit or US President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran Agreement suggest that populists in power fuel international tensions, weaken multilateralism and undermine global governance. However, existing preliminary work on the Global South (Plagemann/Destradi 2019; Destradi/Plagemann 2019) shows that this is not automatically the case. In some cases, populist governments were even more open to multilateralism or showed a greater willingness to provide global public goods than their non-populist predecessors. This variance in the effects of the formation of populist governments on foreign policy has not been systematically studied or theorised so far. The project closes this research gap.

Research Design and Methods

Since the project breaks new ground, it chooses an explorative and comparative approach. It examines four broad foreign policy themes: a) governments' willingness to engage in conflict; b) their contributions to the provision of global public goods; c) their engagement with international institutions; and d) their relationship with populist-ruled and authoritarian states. The qualitative empirical analysis examines continuity and change in the foreign policies of five countries after the formation of populist governments: Bolivia (Morales, 2006-2019), India (Modi, 2014-2019), Turkey (Erdoğan, 2003-2019), Italy (the coalition government of Lega and Five Star Movement, 2018-2019) and the Philippines (Duterte, 2016-2019). The cases were chosen because they show variance in the 'thick' ideology with which populism is combined, as well as on a number of other theoretically relevant dimensions.

The project consists of two Work Packages (WPs). WP1 serves to take stock of continuity and change in foreign policy in the four fields (a-d) as well as in foreign policy decision-making processes; to this end, we compare each of the five populist governments with the respective non-populist predecessor government. WP2 answers the second part of the research question ('why?') and has a theory-building effect. It develops, verifies and refines statements about the mechanisms and conditions through which populism affects foreign policy by comparing foreign policy change in the five cases in an abductive research process. In this way, the project combines the search for generalisable statements with the in-depth and context-sensitive analysis of the case studies.

Publikationen

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