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About the book:

The president of the United States is at once holder of the highest elected office and commander in chief of the armed forces. How do upcoming elections influence presidents’ behavior during wartime? How do presidents balance perceptions of the national interest with personal political interests?

War on the Ballot examines how electoral politics shaped presidential decisions on military and diplomatic strategy during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. Drawing on a wealth of declassified documents and interviews with senior officials and military officers, Andrew Payne reveals the surprisingly large role played by political considerations during conflicts. He demonstrates how the exigencies of the electoral cycle drove leaders to miss opportunities to limit the human and financial costs of each war, gain strategic advantage, or sue for peace, sometimes making critical decisions with striking disregard for the consequences on the ground. Payne emphasizes the importance of electoral pressures throughout the full course of a conflict, not just around the initial decision to intervene. He shows how electoral constraints operate across different phases of the political calendar, going beyond the period immediately preceding a presidential election.

Offering a systematic analysis of the relationship between electoral politics and wartime decision-making, this book raises crucial questions about democratic accountability in foreign policy.

Please join us for a discussion on this book between author Dr Andrew Payne and Dr Will James, a post-doc researcher in the Centre for Grand Strategy. Following the discussion and Q&A session we will host a reception which you are welcome to join.


About the speakers:

Andrew Payne is a Lecturer in Foreign Policy and Security at City, University of London, and a Research Associate at the University of Oxford, where he was previously the Hedley Bull Research Fellow in International Relations. His research examines the influence of domestic politics on US foreign policy, military strategy and civil-military relations. His first book, War on the Ballot: How the Election Cycle Shapes Presidential Decision-Making in War, was published by Columbia University Press in July 2023. His work has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including International Security, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Politics, and Contemporary Politics. His writing has also appeared in the Washington Post, The Conversation, and International Affairs. In addition to his academic work, Andrew serves on the board of the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).

William James joined the Centre for Grand Strategy as an Ax:son Johnson Research Fellow in August 2022. He is also a Senior Associate of the Oxford Changing Character of War Centre. William holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford. Between 2018 and 2020, William was based in the United States as a research fellow at MIT’s Security Studies Program and at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. In 2020-21, he was a non-resident Hans J. Morgenthau fellow at the University of Notre Dame. William’s work has been published in journals such as the European Journal of International Security and International Politics, as well as outlets such as The National Interest and War on the Rocks. One of his goals is to produce academically rigorous research which is accessible and useful for policymakers. He regularly provides support and historically informed analyses to civil servants and the armed forces. William has also contributed evidence to two parliamentary inquiries on British foreign policy. In December 2020, William won the Royal United Services Institute's Trench Gascoigne essay competition for original writing on defence and security. The essay was subsequently published in the RUSI Journal.

At this event

William James

Research Fellow