One of the most contentious issues in contemporary foreign
policy-especially in the United States-is the use of military force
to intervene in the domestic affairs of other states. Some military
interventions explicitly try to transform the domestic institutions
of the states they target; others do not, instead attempting only
to reverse foreign policies or resolve disputes without trying to
reshape the internal landscape of the target state. In Leaders
at War, Elizabeth N. Saunders provides a framework for
understanding when and why great powers seek to transform foreign
institutions and societies through military interventions. She
highlights a crucial but often-overlooked factor in international
relations: the role of individual leaders.
Saunders argues that leaders' threat perceptions-specifically,
whether they believe that threats ultimately originate from the
internal characteristics of other states-influence both the
decision to intervene and the choice of intervention strategy.
These perceptions affect the degree to which leaders use
intervention to remake the domestic institutions of target states.
Using archival and historical sources, Saunders concentrates on
U.S. military interventions during the Cold War, focusing on the
presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. After
demonstrating the importance of leaders in this period, she also
explores the theory's applicability to other historical and
contemporary settings including the post-Cold War period and the
war in Iraq.
Subjects: Political Science
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