The Impact of Perceptions of Democratic Decline: Explaining French and German Foreign Policy toward Russia
Livingstone, John Everett
University of Kansas
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In the last ten years, Russia’s growing assertiveness in international affairs has morphed into aggression as exemplified in Moscow’s military interventions first in Georgia in 2008 and subsequently in Ukraine in 2014. European countries responded to these events in markedly different ways. Whereas they decided not to implement sanctions against Russia in 2008, they reversed the non-confrontational course and sanctioned many of Russia’s top officials and a variety of businesses in 2014. This dissertation uses discourse analysis to investigate the motivations behind these contrary responses through the examination of French and German foreign policy rhetoric. I argue that explanations based on the realist expectations of balancing behavior, neoliberal institutionalist and liberal accounts highlighting the role of international institutions, and economic and other domestic interests, or constructivist explanations focusing on identity and international norms cannot fully explain French and German responses to Russia’s interventions. Rather, the reversal of their positions on sanctioning Russia can be traced to changes in the perceptions of the French and German policy makers regarding the state of democracy in Russia. Consistent with the logic of democratic peace research, I find that French and German policy makers refrained from taking confrontational action against Russia in 2008 when they perceived it as an emerging democracy but were willing to confront Russia in 2014 when they perceived it to be regressing into authoritarianism. Theoretically, this dissertation demonstrates the importance of perceptions of the target regime, specifically with respect to the democratic peace theory, and suggests that these interpretations apply also to the trajectory of domestic politics in the target state. It expands the scope of democratic peace theory to include transitioning states and argues that democratic foreign policy is not limited to the dyads of mature democracies but can also be applied to situations when the target state is perceived to be moving on a path toward western-style liberal democracy.
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