Why do democracies differ as regards the level of parliamentary control over military missions? Since the end of the Cold War, governments of Western democracies have frequently been asked to contribute troops to multilateral military missions. Governments have responded to these calls in different ways. Whilst different decision-making procedures have been treated as an explanatory factor of policy, this paper is interested in explaining why decision-making procedures and parliamentary involvement have been so diverse in the first place.
The paper begins by introducing the countries under consideration in the study. It discusses several dimensions of parliamentary control and argues that the legal power to give prior approval of deployments is the most important one. The paper offers explanatory factors that can be considered to influence the level of parliamentary control, and it discusses possible ways to refine the hypotheses in order to improve their explanatory power and offers policy implications.
As a first step in developing an explanation for the diversity of Western democracies’ deployment laws, this paper presents five hypotheses linking explanatory factors (or independent variables) to the level of parliamentary control over decisions on the use of military force:
- The “locking-in” hypothesis argues that parliaments are likely to be powerful if a country has recently become a democracy because politicians aim to limit future governments’ leeway in security and defence politics.
- Following the “lessons-learnt” hypothesis, a country is likely to have a powerful parliamentary control over the use of force if it previously suffered from a failed military mission.
- The “colonialism” hypothesis argues that countries may inherit a low level of parliamentary control over the use of force from a colonial past.
- The “type-of democracy” hypothesis emphasises that parliament’s competencies also depend on parliament’s overall position within the political system.
- The “internationalisation” hypothesis holds that a country’s level of parliamentary control decreases with the level of multinational integration of its armed forces.
- Binding a country with a high level of parliamentary control to a country with a low level of parliamentary control should be avoided – this constellation dramatically increases the likelihood of the undermining of parliamentary control.
- More “flexible” forms of military integration could help to maintain effective parliamentary control at national level in countries with a high level of parliamentary control.
- Further measures to avoid a “democratic deficit” in security and defence policy are necessary, given the strong incentives for role specialisation and integrated military structures.
- The European Parliament may help to hold supranational officials (such as the High Representative or the head of the EU Military Staff) accountable for their work.
- Transnational assemblies could help to enhance parliamentary control by bringing members of national parliaments together.
- A promising strategy to enhance parliamentary control of military missions would be to strengthen both transnational and supranational forms of parliamentary control simultaneously.