In democracies where leaders are elected by universal suffrage, leaders' foreign policy choices should in principle correspond to, or at least be constrained by, the preferences of their electorates. Despite the intuitive appeal of this notion of democratic constraint, however, electorates were long thought of as being too ignorant, apathetic, or consumed by their livelihoods to have a say in foreign policy. In India, high levels of poverty and illiteracy have been blamed for voter apathy towards foreign affairs, exacerbating the insularity of foreign policy from public opinion.
Against the conventional wisdom, however, recent research drawing on in-depth examination of Indian leaders' foreign policy decisions suggests that this is not always the case. Under certain international and domestic conditions, Indian prime ministers have been found to factor public opinion into their foreign policy decisions. This lecture will draw on the speaker's recently concluded doctoral research at the India Institute at King's College London. The lecture will discuss the cognitive roots of democratic constraint and draw on case studies of Indian foreign policy decisions towards the Gulf to identify the domestic and international conditions under which Indian leaders were more likely to respect public preferences. Ultimately, it seeks to inspire aspiring researchers to approach the topic of democratic constraint on foreign policy in new and unconventional ways.
Dr Hasan Alhasan is a Research Fellow for Middle East Policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). He has recently earned a doctorate in International Relations from King's College London for his research into the cognitive roots of democratic constraint on foreign policy choice in India. Prior to joining King's, Dr Alhasan served for five years as senior analyst at the Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain. He has earned degrees from Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics and is a 2007 recipient of the Crown Prince's International Scholarship Programme in Bahrain.
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