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Populism and International Relations: (Un)predictability, personalisation, and the reinforcement of existing trends in world politics

  • Sandra Destradi (a1) and Johannes Plagemann (a2)

Abstract

As populists have formed governments all over the world, it becomes imperative to study the consequences of the rise of populism for International Relations. Yet, systematic academic analyses of the international impact of populist government formation are still missing, and political commentators tend to draw conclusions from few cases of right-wing populism in the Global North. But populism – conceptualised as a ‘thin’ ideology based on anti-elitism and anti-pluralism – takes different shapes across world regions as populists combine it with different ‘thick’ ideologies. To reflect such diversity and gain more systematic insights into the global implications of populism, we focus on cases of populist government formation in the Global South. We find that populists in power are not, per se, more belligerent or less willing to engage globally than their non-populist predecessors. Factors like status seeking or a country's embeddedness in international institutions mitigate the impact of populism. Its most immediate effect concerns procedural aspects: foreign policymaking becomes more centralised and personalised – yet, not entirely unpredictable, given the importance of ‘thick’ ideologies espoused by populist parties and leaders. Rather than changing course entirely, populists in power reinforce existing trends, especially a tendency towards diversifying international partnerships.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: Sandra.destradi@giga-hamburg.de

References

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1 Verbeek, Bertjan and Zaslove, Andrej, ‘The impact of populist radical right parties on foreign policy: the northern league as a junior coalition partner in the Berlusconi governments’, European Political Science Review, 7:4 (2015), pp. 525–46.

2 Rooduijn, Matthijs, ‘The mesmerising message: the diffusion of populism in public debates in western European media’, Political Studies, 62:4 (2014), pp. 726–44.

3 Chryssogelos, Angelos, ‘Populism in foreign policy’, in Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics (2017), available at: {doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.013.467}; NIC, ‘Global Trends: Paradox of Progress’ (Washington: National Intelligence Council, 2017), available at: {www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends} accessed 29 August 2018; Drezner, Daniel, ‘The angry populist as foreign policy leader: Real change or just hot air?’, The Fletcher Forum for World Affairs, 41:2 (2017), pp. 2343.

4 ‘A dangerous waltz’, The Economist (3 February 2018), pp. 17–19.

5 Plagemann, Johannes and Destradi, Sandra, ‘Populism and foreign policy: the case of India’, Foreign Policy Analysis, 15:2 (2019), pp. 283301.

6 Weyland, Kurt, ‘Clarifying a contested concept: Populism in the study of Latin American politics’, Comparative Politics, 34:1 (2001), pp. 49.

7 Ibid., p. 14.

8 Aslanidis, Paris, ‘Is populism an ideology? A refutation and a new perspective’, Political Studies, 64:1, suppl. (2015), p. 96.

9 Moffitt, Benjamin, The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016).

10 Mudde, Cas, ‘The populist zeitgeist’, Government and Opposition, 39:4 (2004), p. 544.

11 Ibid.; Mudde, Cas, ‘Europe's populist surge: a long time in the making’, Foreign Affairs, 95:6 (2016).

12 Müller, Jan Werner, What Is Populism? (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

13 Ibid., p. 19.

14 Ibid., p. 26.

15 Mudde, ‘The populist zeitgeist’, p. 543; Hawkins, Kirk A., ‘Is Chávez populist?: Measuring populist discourse in comparative perspective’, Comparative Political Studies, 42:8 (2009), pp. 1043–4.

16 Müller, What Is Populism?, p. 42.

17 Panizza, Francisco and Miorelli, Romina, ‘Populism and democracy in Latin America’, Ethics and International Affairs, 23:1 (2009), p. 40, emphasis in original.

18 Müller, What Is Populism?, p. 3.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid., pp. 31–2.

21 Ibid., p. 31.

22 Ibid., p. 35.

23 Verbeek and Zaslove, ‘The impact of populist radical right parties on foreign policy’.

24 Verbeek, Bertjan and Zaslove, Andrej, ‘Populism and foreign policy’, in Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira et al. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Populism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 384405; Rosa Balfour et al., ‘Europe's Troublemakers: The Populist Challenge to Foreign Policy’ (Brussels: European Policy Centre, 2016), available at: {http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=17&pub_id=6377} accessed 20 November 2018.

25 Liang, Christina S., ‘Europe for the Europeans: the foreign and security policy of the populist radical right’, in Liang, Christina S. (ed.), Europe for the Europeans: The Foreign and Security Policy of the Populist Radical Right (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 132.

26 Drezner, ‘The angry populist as foreign policy leader’.

27 Verbeek and Zaslove, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

28 Ibid., p. 392.

29 Chryssogelos, ‘Populism in foreign policy’.

30 Plagemann and Destradi, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

31 Verbeek and Zaslove, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

32 For the case of India, we also draw on interviews with diplomats and experts in part carried out for our previous research on India's foreign policy.

33 Plagemann and Destradi, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

34 Jaffrelot, Christophe, ‘India's democracy at 70: Toward a Hindu state?’, Journal of Democracy, 28:3 (2017), pp. 52–3.

35 Günay, Cengiz, ‘Foreign policy as a source of legitimation for “competitive authoritarian regimes”: the case of Turkey's AKP’, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 17:2 (2016), p. 41.

36 Özpek, Burak B. and Yaşar, Nebahat T., ‘Populism and foreign policy in Turkey under the AKP rule’, Turkish Studies, 19:2 (2018), p. 206.

37 Yabanci, Bilge, ‘Populism as the problem child of democracy: the AKP's enduring appeal and the use of meso-level actors’, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 16:4 (2016), pp. 599600.

38 Cop, Burak and Zihnioğlu, Özge, ‘Turkish foreign policy under AKP rule: Making sense of the turbulence’, Political Studies Review, 15:1 (2015), p. 29.

39 Mudde, Cas and Kaltwasser, Cristóbal Rovira, Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 1617.

40 Ibid., p. 32.

41 Heydarian, Richard J., The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt against Elite Democracy (Singapore: Palgrave Pivot, 2018), p. 33.

42 Ibid., p. 9.

43 Thompson, Mark, ‘Bloodied democracy: Duterte and the death of liberal reformism in the Philippines’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35:3 (2016), p. 51.

44 Ibid., p. 53.

45 Ibid., p. 51.

46 Walden Bello, ‘Rodrigo Duterte: a fascist original’, Foreign Policy in Focus (6 January 2017), available at: {https://fpif.org/rodrigo-duterte-fascist-original/} accessed 29 August 2018.

47 Curato, Nicole, ‘Flirting with authoritarian fantasies? Rodrigo Duterte and the new terms of Philippine populism’, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 47:1 (2017), p. 146.

48 Mong Palatino, ‘Is the Philippines’ Duterte really a leftist?’, The Diplomat (2 May 2017).

49 William Davies, ‘Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the rise of radical incompetence’, The New York Times (13 July 2018), available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/13/opinion/brexit-conservatives-boris-trump.html} accessed 29 August 2018.

50 Muller, What Is Populism?, p. 41.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 ‘Lexington: the threat within’, The Economist (7 July 2018), p. 40.

54 Günay, ‘Foreign policy as a source of legitimation’, pp. 42–3.

55 Özpek, Burak B. and Demirağ, Yelda, ‘Turkish foreign policy after the “Arab Spring”: From agenda-setter state to agenda-entrepreneur state’, Israel Affairs, 20:3 (2014), pp. 328–46.

56 Asli Aydintasbas, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Gülenists: The Role of the Gülen Movement in Turkey's Coup Attempt’ (London: ECFR, 2016), p. 9, available at: {https://www.ecfr.eu/publications/summary/the_good_the_bad_and_the_gulenists7131} accessed 29 August 2018.

57 Hall, Ian, ‘Multialignment and Indian foreign policy under Narendra Modi’, The Round Table, 105:3 (2016), pp. 271–86.

58 Ganguly, Sumit, Hindu Nationalism and the Foreign Policy of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (Washington: Transatlantic Academy, 2015), p. 12.

59 See, for example, ‘Congress responsible for the creation of Pakistan, says Narendra Modi’, Economic Times (9 April 2019), available at: accessed 14 April 2019.

60 See below and Wehner, Leslie E., ‘Role expectations as foreign policy: South American secondary powers' expectations of Brazil as a regional power’, Foreign Policy Analysis, 11:4 (2015), pp. 435–55.

61 Sylvia, Ronald D. and Danopoulos, Constantine P., ‘The Chávez phenomenon: Political change in Venezuela’, Third World Quarterly, 24:1 (2003), p. 70.

62 Teehankee, Julio C., ‘Duterte's resurgent nationalism in the Philippines: a discursive institutionalist analysis’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35:3 (2017), p. 69.

63 Heydarian, The Rise of Duterte, p. 11. Interestingly, anti-Americanism also is a staple of European populists of different ideological backgrounds since, being ‘the undisputed superpower … populists [can] associate it with a variety of policies they oppose … – free trade, loss of sovereignty, cultural homogenization, etc.’ (Chryssogelos, ‘Populism in foreign policy’).

64 Çakır, Aydın Aylin and Akdağ, Gül Arıkan, ‘An empirical analysis of the change in Turkish foreign policy under the AKP government’, Turkish Studies, 18:2 (2017), p. 347.

65 Ibid., p. 352.

66 Günay, ‘Foreign policy as a source of legitimation’, p. 43.

67 Basrur, Rajesh and de Estrada, Kate Sullivan, Rising India: Status and Power (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2017).

68 Sandra Destradi and Johannes Plagemann, ‘Party Ideology and Change in Indian Foreign Policy’, paper presented at the ECPR General Conference, Hamburg, August 2018. Additionally, the emergence of China as India's principal strategic challenge has made close relations with the US more palatable to an Indian audience that otherwise cherishes anti-American sentiments.

69 Zürn, Michael, ‘Global governance and legitimacy problems’, Government and Opposition, 39:2 (2004), p. 285.

70 Chryssogelos, Angelos, ‘State transformation and populism: From the internationalized to the neo-sovereign state?’, Politics (2018), available at: {doi: 10.1177/0263395718803830}; Michael Zürn, ‘How the taming of the class conflict produced authoritarian populism’, Democracy Papers (17 April 2018), available at: {https://items.ssrc.org/how-the-taming-of-the-class-conflict-produced-authoritarian-populism/} accessed 12 February 2019.

71 CorriereTv, ‘Salvini alla lavagna spiega la parola “sovranismo”’, available at: {https://video.corriere.it/salvini-lavagna-spiega-parola-sovranismo/751e9962-e6bd-11e8-b579-7cd18decd794?refresh_ce-cp} accessed 22 November 2018.

72 See Mudde, Cas, Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

73 Kenkel, Kai Michael and Destradi, Sandra, ‘Explaining emerging powers’ reluctance to adopt intervention norms: Normative contestation and hierarchies of responsibility’, Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62:1 (2019), available at: {doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201900102}.

74 Çakır, Aylin Aydın and Akdağ, Gül Arıkan, ‘An empirical analysis of the change in Turkish foreign policy under the AKP government’, Turkish Studies, 18:2 (2017), pp. 350–2.

75 Heydarian, The Rise of Duterte, p. 46.

76 Felipe Villamor, ‘Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines calls U.N. Human Rights Chief an “idiot”’, The New York Times, available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/world/asia/rodrigo-duterte-philippines-zeid-raad-al-hussein.html} accessed 29 August 2018.

77 Interestingly, Modi has been less keen than his predecessor to get a permanent Security Council seat for India, but he has emphasised the UN's pre-eminence as compared, for example, to the G-20. See Cooper, Andrew F. and Farooq, Asif B., ‘The role of China and India in the G20 and BRICS: Commonalities or competitive behaviour?’, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 45:3 (2017), pp. 73106.

78 Narlikar, Amrita, ‘India's role in global governance: a modi-fication?’, International Affairs, 93:1 (2017), pp. 93111.

79 Romero, Carlos A. and Mijares, Víctor M., ‘From Chávez to Maduro: Continuity and change in Venezuelan foreign policy’, Contexto Internacional, 38:1 (2016), p. 183.

80 Burges, Sean W., ‘Building a Global Southern coalition: the competing approaches of Brazil's Lula and Venezuela's Chávez’, Third World Quarterly, 28:7 (2007), p. 1346.

81 The assessment is based on an analysis of shifting engagements after populist takeover by Chávez, Erdoğan, Modi, and Duterte in the fields of climate governance, crisis management and peacekeeping, multilateral trade as well as development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Due to space constraints, findings can only be summarised here.

82 Hugo Chávez, Speech at the XV International Conference of the United Nations Organization on Climate Change in Copenhagen, available at: {https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5013} accessed 27 November 2018.

83 Ed King, ‘Duterte: Addressing Climate Change Is “Top Priority” for Philippines’, Climate Home News, available at: {http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/07/25/duterte-addressing-climate-change-is-top-priority-for-philippines/} accessed 30 July 2018.

84 Narlikar, ‘India's role in global governance’, p. 104.

85 Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's Remarks, Carnegie India, available at: {http://carnegieindia.org/2016/04/06/indian-foreign-secretary-subrahmanyam-jaishankar-s-remarks/iwq8} accessed 30 August 2018.

86 Cop and Zihnioğlu. ‘Turkish foreign policy under AKP rule’, p. 33.

87 Ibid., p. 31.

88 UN Peacekeeping, ‘Troop and Police Contributors’, available at: {https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/troop-and-police-contributors} accessed 29 May 2018.

89 Destradi and Plagemann, ‘Party Ideology and Change in Indian Foreign Policy’.

90 Rani Mullen and Kashyap Arora, ‘India's Development Cooperation: Analysis of the Union Budget 2016-2017’, Centre for Policy Research, available at: {http://www.cprindia.org/research/reports/analysis-union-budget} accessed 11 June 2018.

91 Kavakli, Kerim Can, ‘Domestic politics and the motives of emerging donors: Evidence from Turkish foreign aid’, Political Research Quarterly (2018), available at: {doi: 10.1177/1065912917750783}.

92 Romero and Mijares, ‘From Chávez to Maduro’, p. 174.

93 Aytaç, S. Erdem and Öniş, Ziya, ‘Varieties of populism in a changing global context: the divergent paths of Erdoğan and Kirchnerismo’, Comparative Politics, 47:1 (2014), p. 56.

94 Plagemann and Destradi, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

95 See, for instance, Cooper, Andrew F., ‘The changing nature of diplomacy’, in Cooper, Andrew, Heine, Jorge, and Thakur, Ramesh (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 36.

96 Drezner, ‘The angry populist as foreign policy leader’.

97 Raby, Diana, ‘Venezuelan foreign policy under Chávez, 1999–2010: the pragmatic success of revolutionary ideology?’, in Gardini, Gian Luca and Lambert, Peter (eds), Latin American Foreign Policies – Between Ideology and Pragmatism (New York: Palgrave, 2011), p. 160.

98 Çinar, Menderes, ‘Turkey's “Western” or “Muslim” identity and the AKP's civilizational discourse’, Turkish Studies, 19:2 (2018), p. 12.

99 Hall, Ian, ‘The persistence of Nehruvianism in India's strategic culture’, in Tellis, Ashley J., Szalwinski, Alison, and Wills, Michael (eds), Strategic Asia 2016–17 (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2016), pp. 141–67.

100 Wojczewski, Thorsten, India's Foreign Policy Discourse and its Conceptions of World Order (New York: Routledge, 2018).

101 Görener, Aylin Ş. and Ucal, Meltem Ş., ‘The personality and leadership style of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Implications for Turkish foreign policy’, Turkish Studies, 12:3 (2011), p. 376.

102 Başkan, Birol, ‘Islamism and Turkey's “foreign policy during the Arab Spring”’, Turkish Studies, 19:2 (2018), p. 281; Türk, H. Bahadir, ‘Populism as a medium of mass mobilization: the case of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’, International Area Studies Review, 21:2 (2018), p. 160.

103 Destradi and Plagemann, ‘Party Ideology and Change in Indian Foreign Policy’.

104 Heydarian, The Rise of Duterte, p. 48.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid.

107 Ibid.

108 Görener and Ucal, ‘The personality and leadership style of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’, p. 376.

109 On this point for Venezuela, see Raby, ‘Venezuelan foreign policy under Chávez, 1999–2010’, p. 160.

110 This point was made in the authors’ personal communication with two anonymous Indian experts in 2017.

111 Neumann, Iver B., ‘“A speech that the entire ministry may stand for”, or: Why diplomats never produce anything new’, International Political Sociology, 1:2 (2007), p. 196.

112 Personal communication with a senior European diplomat in March 2018.

113 Personal communication with an anonymous Indian expert in November 2018.

114 Curato, Nicole, ‘Politics of anxiety, politics of hope: Penal populism and Duterte's rise to power’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 35:3 (2016), p. 91.

115 Krastev, Ivan, ‘Democracy's “doubles”’, Journal of Democracy, 17:2 (2006), p. 53.

116 Türk, ‘ Populism as a medium of mass mobilization’, p. 159.

117 Recep T. Erdoğan, ‘How Turkey sees the crisis with the US’, The New York Times (10 August 2018), available at: {https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/opinion/turkey-erdogan-trump-crisis-sanctions.html} accessed 29 August 2018.

118 UNCTAD, Trade and Development Report 2017 (New York and Geneva: UNCTAD, 2017).

119 Acharya, Amitav, ‘The future of global governance: Fragmentation may be inevitable and creative’, Global Governance, 22:4 (2016), pp. 453–60.

120 Hall, ‘Multialignment and Indian foreign policy under Narendra Modi’.

121 However, defending state sovereignty and self-determination for long has been an important element in the foreign policies of countries in the Global South. In the non-aligned movement and within individual countries’ foreign policy discourses, sovereignty effectively served as an emblem of equal international status and a defence against northern and former colonial powers’ intrusion into domestic affairs. See, for instance, Buzan, Barry, ‘Universal sovereignty’, in Dunne, Tim and Reus-Smit, Christian (eds), The Globalization of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), p. 239.

122 Nymalm, Nicola and Plagemann, Johannes, ‘Comparative exceptionalism: Universality and particularity in foreign policy discourses’, International Studies Review, Online First (2018), available at: {https://doi.org/10.1093/isr/viy008}.

123 Kaplan, Robert, The Return of Marco Polo's World (New York: Random House, 2018), p. 221.

124 Note that the employment of a confrontational foreign policy as a regime legitimation device is not restricted to populist regimes but, instead, a frequent tool in the legitimation strategies of autocratic regimes, particularly those under internal stress. See Holbig, Heike, ‘International dimensions of legitimacy: Reflections on Western theories and the Chinese experience’, Journal of Chinese Political Science, 16:2 (2011), pp. 161–81.

125 Verbeek and Zaslove, ‘Populism and foreign policy’.

126 Also see Wojczewiski, Thorsten, ‘Populism, Hindu nationalism, and foreign policy in India: the politics of representing “the people”’, International Studies Review (2019), available at: {doi: 10.1093/isr/viz007}.

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