Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Margaret G. Hermann


Clarity of Responsibility, Coalitions, Commitment, Europe, Foreign Policy Analysis, Veto Players

Subject Categories

Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


A central debate in the Comparative Foreign Policy literature concerns the role of government composition on the international behavior of parliamentary democracies. For the past two decades, a multitude of studies have discussed whether single-party governments were more or less constrained than multiparty coalitions in their international behavior, yet they have failed to reach conclusive empirical findings. This dissertation responds to this puzzle by unpacking coalitions: as it captures the variation among coalition governments along mathematical and ideological dimensions, the dissertation introduces a nuanced 'government composition' approach to explain the international commitments of European parliamentary regimes during the post-Cold War period.

To undertake this project, the dissertation utilizes the Comparative Politics literature on coalition theories, legislative politics and economic voting. Specifically, it introduces the veto players and clarity of government responsibility theories to frame the debate and to demonstrate that both theories remain inadequate in explaining commitment intensity unless two key variables are accounted for: (a) the types of multiparty governments that emerge in parliamentary systems and (b) the extent of ideological differences inside these coalitions, or their 'policy incongruence.' Furthermore, the dissertation challenges the existing understanding regarding the constrained nature of minority coalitions by bringing in the policy viability and fragmented opposition explanations into the analysis of foreign policy behavior.

The dissertation employs a multi-method research strategy to comprehensively evaluate the analytical capacity of the 'government composition' explanation by (a) revealing the statistical relationships between government composition and international commitments, (b) uncovering the mechanisms that link the composition of governments to international commitments, and (c) testing the explanatory power of the 'government composition' approach against a series of alternative explanations at the individual, domestic and international levels.

To these ends, the dissertation first utilizes a post-Cold War foreign policy events dataset to test the effects of government type and ideological cohesion by using multilevel regression techniques. Next, it complements these analyses with structured-focused case studies of the Danish decisions to join the 1990 Gulf and 2003 Iraq wars and the Dutch decision to support the 2003 Iraq war. The case studies evaluate a series of alternative explanations including public opinion, logrolling dynamics among political parties, threats to national survival and the role of political leadership as well as the domestic and international political contexts of these states to explain how they have decided to provide political and material support for these international military operations.

The project firmly concludes that the dichotomous understanding of government composition that has long prevailed in the foreign policy literature is not only inadequate but misleading to explain the international commitments of parliamentary democracies. Quantitative and qualitative tests suggest that the type of multiparty governments and their ideological diversity together affect commitment intensity in different directions, through diverse mechanisms. Specifically, oversized coalitions engage in more intense commitments compared to single-party majority governments through responsibility diffusion. Minority coalitions engage in stronger commitments so long as their ideological setup leaves the parliamentary opposition fragmented, through policy viability. Finally, minimum winning coalitions can overcome their ideological fragility and increase their international commitments when the political parties engage in logrolling relationships with each other. The dissertation situates these findings within the context of factors that pertain to the motivations of key political leaders, domestic political norms and public opinion, as well as the broader historical foreign policy orientations of the states.

With the conclusions of the statistical and case analyses, the dissertation ultimately offers a 'coalition politics framework' to explain foreign policy behavior in parliamentary regimes. In the end, the dissertation contributes to the literature on foreign policy analysis as the first study to introduce a multilevel, multicausal framework to evaluate the international behavior of parliamentary democracies.


Open Access