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Exploring the foreign policies of populist governments: (Latin) America First

Abstract

How do populists conduct foreign policy? The existing literature on populism focuses mainly on domestic patterns, and until recently the foreign dimension of populism has been largely overlooked. This paper aims to fill theoretical and empirical lacunae by mapping patterns of change and continuity in the formulation of geopolitical and economic international policy among Latin-American populist governments. Striving to conduct a systematic comparative analysis, this paper explores three waves of populist foreign policies in Latin America (classic, neoliberal, and progressive). While it is difficult to highlight a unified phenomenon, the findings reveal that several ‘unifying’ elements indeed exist: they are manifest in the tendency of such governments to jointly (re)construct transnational solidarities for legitimation purposes and to adopt economic foreign policies with a pragmatic bent. Moreover, in opposition to the two first waves of populist governments, the most recent wave has embraced personalist styles, emotional public diplomacy, and clientelist techniques with support networks abroad, thus actively projecting the domestic patterns of populism to the regional and global levels in an attempt to leverage both domestic and international legitimacy. This study offers critical lessons for IR scholarship’s increasing engagement with populism, contributing to the lively debate regarding the rise of populist trends across the globe.

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Acknowledgements

For helpful comments on earlier versions of this article, I am grateful to Arie Kacowicz, Luis Roniger, Angelos Chryssogelos, Sandra Destradi, Cameron Thies, Leslie Wehner, Piki Ish-Shalom, Charles Kupchan, Tanja Börzel, Galia Press-Barnathan, Thomas Risse, Yoram Haftel, Javier Bonilla, Exequiel Lacowsky, and other workshop participants at the 2017 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, the 2017 Rabin Conference, the 2018 European Workshops in International Studies, and the 2018 Joint International PhD Workshop on ‘Contestations of the Liberal Script’. Thanks are also due to three anonymous reviewers and the editors of this journal, as well as the Leonard Davis Institute at the Hebrew University and the Cluster of Excellence ‘Contestations of the Liberal Script’ (EXC-2055, Project-ID-390715649) for their generous funding.

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Wajner, D.F. Exploring the foreign policies of populist governments: (Latin) America First. J Int Relat Dev 24, 651–680 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41268-020-00206-8

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Keywords

  • classic populism
  • global populism
  • Latin American populism
  • neoliberal neopopulism
  • populist foreign policy
  • progressive neopopulism