, Volume 91, Number 5

James Strong
This article presents three distinct interpretations of how parliamentary war powers affect British foreign policy more generally, based on a detailed analysis of the debate preceding the vote in parliament in August 2013 on whether Britain should intervene in the Syrian civil war. The first interpretation treats parliament as a site for domestic role contestation. From this perspective, parliamentary war powers matter because they raise the significance of MPs’ doubts about Britain’s proper global ‘role’. The second interpretation treats parliament as a forum for policy debate. There is nothing new about MPs discussing international initiatives. But now they do more than debate, they decide, at least where military action is involved. From this perspective, parliamentary war powers matter because they make British foreign policy more cautious and less consistent, even if they also make it more transparent and (potentially) more democratic in turn. The final interpretation treats parliament as an arena for political competition. From this perspective, parliamentary involvement exposes major foreign policy decisions to the vagaries of partisan politicking, a potent development in an era of weak or coalition governments, and a recipe for unpredictability. Together these developments made parliament’s war powers highly significant, not just where military action is concerned, but for British foreign policy overall. James Strong talks about his article in this month's IA podcast: https://www.chathamhouse.org/file/international-affairs-915-interpreting-syria-vote-plus

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Interpreting the Syria vote: parliament and British foreign policy
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