Between International Structure and Executive Autonomy: Convergence and Divergence in post-Cold War British, French and German Military Reforms

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Post-Cold War military reforms in Britain, France and Germany have been characterized by patterns of convergence in the objectives, instruments and institutional forums of defense policy, but by divergence in temporality. These patterns of convergence and divergence cannot be fully explained by cultural approaches. Neither can they be explained solely by a focus on the role of ‘international structure’, as neo-realism posits, although the post-Cold War distribution of capabilities is driving Britain, France and Germany towards policy convergence. Instead the analysis builds upon the insights of neoclassical realism and its emphasis upon ‘state power’ by demonstrating the important intervening role played by domestic material power relationships in incentivizing figures within the core executive to respond to systemic power shifts. The article argues that in Britain and France ‘executive autonomy’ in defense policy, resulting from the unitary state, weak linkages between defense and social policy subsystems and formal powers of the core executive in defense has allowed policy leaders to focus on the ‘national interest’ and convergence with ‘systemic imperatives’. In Germany the federal system and linkages between social and defense policy circumscribed ‘executive autonomy’ in defense policy and incentivized an acute concern within the core executive about the domestic political ramifications of convergence with systemic imperatives, leading to the temporal management of reform, producing short-medium term policy stasis. Culture emerges not so much as a cause of action as instrumental and a resource for policy leaders in the domestic political and temporal management of reform.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-774
Number of pages49
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number4
Early online date3 Dec 2008
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Cite this