Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation

The influence of American public opinion on US military interventions after the Cold War

Abstract : Recent qualitative studies of the relationship between public opinion and U.S. foreign policy put decisions into the following two categories: the President tends to lead or to follow public opinion; public opinion influences decision-making, constrains the decision, or has no impact. These studies typically research the initial decision to intervene, but fail to examine the subsequent decisions to sustain and win a war: financial and human means, conduct, objectives, duration, and communication. I argue that these elements of a winning strategy are impacted by concerns with public support at home. The impact of public opinion on the decision whether to use force is better understood when analyzing the compromise between the perception of anticipated public opinion and the necessities of a military campaign. Public opinion impacts the strategy, the timing, and length of an intervention, and inversely, those elements impact the anticipated public opinion and ultimately the decision to use force or choose a different course of action. The president can expect to influence public opinion and raise the acceptability of an intervention through various means. As a consequence, there is a back-and-forth process between anticipated public support for a given intervention and the consideration of the use of force. Contrary to the current literature, which tends to conclude that the president enjoys a substantial margin for maneuver, an analysis of post Cold War cases of interventions, limited interventions, and military escalations shows that anticipated public opinion limited the president's margin for maneuver and influenced not only the decision to intervene but also the military strategy and in the end, the result of the intervention. These findings contradict the realist paradigm for which only the structure of the international system matters and domestic politics are irrelevant in the study of international relations.
Document type :
Complete list of metadata
Contributor : Hélène Saint-Gal Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, April 26, 2022 - 2:55:25 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, April 27, 2022 - 3:35:02 AM


  • HAL Id : tel-03652324, version 1



Hélène Dieck-René. The influence of American public opinion on US military interventions after the Cold War. Political science. Institut d'études politiques de Paris - Sciences Po, 2014. English. ⟨NNT : 2014IEPP0014⟩. ⟨tel-03652324⟩



Record views