Most U.S. presidents will pursue third-party conflict mediation sometime during their administration. However, the approach and level of commitment to those endeavors vary greatly across time and results are often minimally successful. This study explains this variation in terms of domestic political considerations, suggesting that the potential risks and payoffs in the domestic sphere primarily drive the supply of mediation, rather than conflict characteristics, “ripeness” for resolution, or the national interest. Presidents are shown to engage in mediation when they are relatively secure domestically, enjoying legislative success in Congress. The results are consistent with the notion that presidents prefer political cover when engaging in foreign policy. Thus, the argument informs the literature on mediator behavior by linking it with theories of foreign policy decision making and suggests that the political context in which mediation is offered will influence its prospects for success, often explaining why mediation efforts fall short. Moreover, given the trend toward divided government in the United States, the results presented here suggest that mediation will become less prevalent in U.S. foreign policy.

Author Bio(s)

Jamie Todhunter is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Troy University. His research focuses on the effect of domestic politics on conflict resolution processes. He earned his Ph.D. in 2012 from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.


I am grateful to Dennis Foster, Brandon Prins, David Brulé and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments in the writing of this paper. An earlier version of the paper was presented at the 2012 Midwest Political Science Association Conference.


Mediation, Congressional Support, Elections, Foreign Policy Decision Making

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