Small states and foreign policy: systemic constraints and domestic filters in Georgia's foreign policy

Caucasus Mountains from Georgia

Small states and foreign policy: systemic constraints and domestic filters in Georgia's foreign policy

Monday, 7 March 2022 - 5:00pm to 6:45pm
Nissan Lecture Theatre & Online
Dr David Siroky (Arizona State University)
Professor Roy Allison (St Antony's)
Russian and Eurasian Studies Centre Monday Seminar

Abstract: The field of IR has long privileged factors external to states (such as balance of power and threat, economic dependence), not only but particularly when studying the foreign policy behavior of small states. Unlike structural realism, neoclassical realism focuses on how the interaction between systemic and unit-level characteristics influence foreign policy. The article assesses arguments derived from neoclassical realism against two prominent alternative accounts – balance of threat and economic dependence – to explain change in Georgia’s foreign policy. While the continued existence of the Russian threat explains continuity in general trends of Georgia’s foreign policy, and does so better than economic dependence, it cannot account for the difference in the pace and assertiveness of foreign policy during the different governments. To understand this variation over time and across administrations in Georgia, we argue that differences in two unit-level factors – elite cohesion and state capacity - are crucial, for they influence the ‘warp and woof’ of how small states respond to the external environment. This study suggests that a framework incorporating these features of the domestic political system, which filter the international environment, provides a superior explanation of Georgia’s foreign policy. The analysis underscores the analytical benefits of bringing the state back into the analysis of foreign policy, and of integrating different levels of analysis into a single theoretical model. Drawing upon primary sources and two dozen exclusive interviews with high-level policymakers, the analysis suggests that neoclassical realism affords a more nuanced and precise account of foreign policy change over time than structural realism, and can reveal more about the causes of small state behavior in the international sphere. The talk concludes with some general observations about the benefits and limits of this approach for understanding small state foreign policy behavior.

Bio: David Siroky studies cooperation, conflict and collective action in politics and economics, and teaches in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, where he is a core faculty member of the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity and the working group on Nationalist and Ethno-Religious Dynamics, as well as a faculty affiliate of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Center for Jewish Studies, the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, and the Center on the Future of War. His research appears in more than thirty peer-reviewed articles in some of the leading journals, and in Defection Denied: A Study of Civilian Support for Insurgency in Irregular War (Cambridge University Press, 2022), which analyses the nature and sources of civilian support for militant groups during wartime utilising unobtrusive survey experiments. He has received major grants as PI and co-PI from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of State, and the National Council for Eurasian and East European Research, along with senior research fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation, Zentrum fuer Interkulturelle Studien in Germany and Fondation Maison des Sciences de l'Homme in France. His work has been recognized with several awards, most recently the Deil S. Wright Award from the American Political Science Association's section on Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.

NB The Week 8 Monday Seminar will be a hybrid event. It will take place in person in the Nissan Lecture Theatre, St Antony’s College – but it will also be possible to attend on Zoom.

REES and other Oxford students plus staff may attend in person without registering. Others who would like to attend either in person or on Zoom are invited to email:

All who would like to attend in person are reminded of OSGA guidelines:

    • Attendees are reminded of the guidance to test twice weekly
    • Attendees are told not to attend the event if they have symptoms of COVID-19                    
    • Attendees are advised to wear face coverings during the event, unless exempt                
    • Attendees are encouraged to respect social spacing as far as possible                                    
    • Attendees are reminded to use hand sanitisation facilities regularly