Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon C. Prins

Committee Members

Anthony J. Nownes, Nathan J. Kelly, Joy T. DeSensi


Mediation theory has developed separately from mainstream theories explaining foreign policy. Specifically, mediator motivations and constraints have often been overlooked. I extend an argument explaining mediator motivations, and thus mediation occurrence and strategy, in terms of domestic political institutions and leader performance. The notion that leaders use foreign policy in order to help further their domestic fortunes and those of their party is widely accepted in the international relations literature, as is the notion that political survival is pre-eminent in any leader’s decision-making calculus. Scholars have also shown that leaders shift their focus to foreign policy when institutional factors, such as an opposition controlled legislature, make addressing poor domestic performance through legislation especially difficult. Empirical tests of such arguments have been limited to the use of force and have not been extended to other aspects of foreign policy such as third party mediation. Given that a leader is focused on political survival, but is also constrained by domestic circumstances and evaluated by a domestic audience, the use of military force to engineer a policy success is to be a risky and potentially costly policy option, given the other policy options at his disposal.

Conflict mediation is a policy option that is both low-cost and low-risk, relative to the use of force, which also has the potential to be billed as a high-profile success for an administration. As such, leaders should be seen using mediation as a foreign policy option when domestic policy options are unavailable or are considered inefficient for demonstrating success. This project examines the incentives (or motivations), constraints, strategies, and benefits US Presidents confront when using mediation as a policy tool, given this goal of developing a record of success in the eyes of a domestic political audience. It tests whether engaging in mediation yields domestic political benefits. I find limited support for the argument that leaders engage in mediation in response to poor domestic conditions when domestic political configurations make the passage of legislation difficult. There is also support for the argument that partisan support in congress provides “cover” for the president to engage in mediation.

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