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Going for the Gold versus Distributing the Green: Foreign Policy Substitutability and Complementarity in Status Enhancement Strategies

Paul Bezerra, Jacob Cramer, Megan Hauser, Jennifer L. Miller, Thomas J. Volgy
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/fpa.12061 253-272 First published online: 1 July 2015

Status and the relative ranking of states in international politics seem to be salient concerns for most foreign policymakers.2 Yet, the literature on how status rankings are attributed to states remains as scarce as research on the strategies utilized by states to maintain or enhance the status they are attributed. While there is more research conducted on both status attribution and status competition regarding major powers and rising powers,3 little systematic attention has focused on the larger population of states in international politics.4

One of the latest contributions to this literature is an analysis of successful competition in the summer Olympics as a state status-seeking strategy (Rhamey and Early 2013). The authors find that winning Olympic medals and hosting the Olympics have significant impacts on states' status rankings. We do not question these results and, in fact, applaud the effort to map out one strategy of status enhancement. However, we raise a cautionary note about the complex foreign policy choices faced by states as they may pursue additional status. Within the toolbox of policymakers, there are a variety of policies with which to pursue the same objective in international politics, be it status enhancement or other goals. Typically, this interchangeability of strategies has been referred to in the literature as foreign policy substitutability (Most and Starr 1984; Morgan and Palmer 2000; Palmer and Bhandari 2000). If in fact there are numerous policy options available for seeking enhanced status, then these policies should be examined—and evaluated—using a comparative policy perspective in order to determine whether or not they are substitutable and possibly complementary policies.

The notions of substitutability and complementarity should be salient for both policymakers and researchers. For policymakers, substitutability provides flexibility in choosing policies that may have variable costs, effects, and consequences. Establishing complementarity …

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