Governing Abroad

Coalition Politics and Foreign Policy in Europe

Subjects: Political Science, Public Policy, Governance, International Relations
Open Access : 9780472902859, 254 pages, 19 tables, 15 figures, 6 x 9, July 2022
Paperback : 9780472055401, 254 pages, 19 tables, 15 figures, 6 x 9, July 2022
Hardcover : 9780472075409, 254 pages, 19 tables, 15 figures, 6 x 9, July 2022

This open access version is made available thanks in part to the support of libraries participating in Knowledge Unlatched.
See expanded detail +

Brings political parties back to the study of foreign policy

Table of contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
1. Why Study Coalition Governments in Foreign Policy?
2. The Constraints and Opportunities of Coalition Foreign Policy: Moving Beyond the Dichotomy
3. From Parties to Coalitions: Explaining Foreign Policy Commitments in Post-Cold War Europe
4. Reaching ‘Across the Aisle’: Danish Commitments During the 1990 and 2003 Wars in Iraq
5. When Foreign Policy Spills Over: Dutch Support for the 2003 Iraq War
6. Loyal to Whom? Finland’s Decision to Join the Eurozone
7. “Governing Together,” Abroad: Conclusions and Implications


From Austria to New Zealand, coalition governments often pave the road to foreign policy. In Western Europe, nearly 90 percent of postwar governments include two or more political parties. Israel, the Middle East’s only consolidated democracy according to many, has never experienced single-party rule in its history. Even the United Kingdom, known for its long streak of single-party rule, now navigates multiparty cabinets. Coalitions are everywhere, but we still have little understanding of how they act in foreign affairs. History shows that coalitions can sometime engage in powerful international commitments such as participating in military operations, but at other times, they postpone their decisions, water down their policy positions, or promise to do less than they otherwise would. What explains these differences in behavior?

Governing Abroad unpacks the little-known world of coalition governments to find out. Oktay argues that the specific constellation of parties in government explains why some coalitions can make more assertive foreign policy decisions than others. Building on the rich literature in political science on coalitions, legislatures, and voting behavior, the book weaves together sophisticated statistical analyses of foreign policy events across thirty European countries alongside in-depth case studies from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Finland. It brings political parties back into the study of foreign policy, demonstrating that the size of the coalition, the ideological proximity of the governing parties, and their relationship with the parliamentary opposition together influence the government’s ability to act in the international arena. This book challenges our existing perceptions about the constraints and weaknesses of coalition governments. It sheds new light on the conditions that allow them to act decisively abroad.

Sibel Oktay is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois, Springfield and Nonresident Senior Fellow of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

“Oktay’s book masterfully builds on work in foreign policy analysis and comparative politics to take the study of coalition foreign policy to a whole new level. With a mixed-methods approach, the book is rich and rigorous. Oktay’s findings are truly significant for understanding foreign relations of parliamentary democracies.”

—Juliet Kaarbo, University of Edinburgh

- Juliet Kaarbo

Governing Abroad is a theoretically innovative, methodologically rigorous, and empirically rich study of coalition politics in foreign policy making. Based on quantitative and case study evidence, Sibel Oktay’s book advances our understanding of the domestic politics of foreign policy making in liberal democracies.”

—Wolfgang Wagner, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

- Wolfgang Wagner

“Oktay presents elegant arguments—grounded in rigorous coalition theory and tested with comparative case studies and large statistical analyses—explaining why some governments are more adventurous foreign policy actors than others. This must-read for coalition and foreign policy scholars alike makes a substantial and timely contribution to our understanding of multiparty policymaking.”

—David Fortunato, University of California, San Diego

- David Fortunato

“This book presents a more nuanced treatment of coalition politics than previous work and therefore adds a new layer to our understanding of how coalition government affects foreign policy making.”

—Marijke Breuning, University of North Texas

- Marijke Breuning

“Oktay’s fine book will be valuable for scholars and researchers in the general field of foreign policy analysis.  It is a major contribution to the literature on parliamentary foreign policy and, in particular, the vibrant theoretical research on coalition politics and foreign policy decision making.”

—Joe D. Hagan, West Virginia University

- Joe D. Hagan

"The book establishes new links between comparative politics and international relations and provides food for thought for policymakers. Recommended."


Listen: Interview on New Books Network | 9/26/2022 
Listen: Interview with Ambassador's Brief | 7/5/2022
Winner: 2022 Best Book in Foreign Policy Analysis from the International Studies Association (ISA) | 10/27/2023
Listen: Featured on International Studies Review (ISR) Podcast as a notable book of 2023 | 1/03/2024