Examining leaders’ orientations to structural constraints: Turkey’s 1991 and 2003 Iraq war decisions

  • Esra Cuhadar
  • Juliet Kaarbo
  • Baris Kesgin
  • Binnur Ozkececi-Taner
Original Article


Explanations of states’ security decisions prioritise structural — systemic, institutional and cultural — constraints that characterise foreign security decisions as a function of external/international, domestic/institutional, or normative/cultural factors. By examining Turkey’s 1990–1991 and 2003 Iraq war decisions systematically, we problematise this prioritisation of structure, and we investigate the dynamic relationship between structural constraints and leaders in their decision-making environments. In these cases, while the structural constraints remain constant or indeterminate, the decision outcomes and the decision-making process differ significantly. Our findings, based on structured-focused comparison, process tracing, and leadership trait analysis, suggest that the leaders’ personalities and how they react to constraints account for this difference and that dependence on only one set of factors leads to an incomplete understanding of security policies and international politics. We contribute to the broader understanding of leaders’ personalities by suggesting that self-confidence and cognitive complexity are the key traits distinguishing leaders’ orientations towards structural constraints.


foreign policy Iraq wars leadership trait analysis political personality Turkey 



The authors gratefully acknowledge that this research was supported by a TUBITAK Evrena grant (110K112). We would like to thank Margaret G. Hermann and Ryan Beasley for their helpful comments, Michael Young at Social Science Automation for making ProfilerPlus available to us, as well as Hanneke Derksen. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Studies Association Convention in 2010; we would like to thank our discussant Akan Malici for his helpful comments. Finally, we extend our thanks to three anonymous reviewers and the journal’s editorial team for their constructive feedback.


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esra Cuhadar
    • 1
  • Juliet Kaarbo
    • 2
  • Baris Kesgin
    • 3
  • Binnur Ozkececi-Taner
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceBilkent UniversityBilkentTurkey
  2. 2.Politics and International Relations, School of Social and Political ScienceUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  3. 3.Susquehanna UniversitySelinsgroveUSA
  4. 4.Department of Political ScienceHamline UniversitySt. PaulUSA

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