Features of foreign policy birds: Israeli prime ministers as hawks and doves

AuthorBaris Kesgin
Publication Date01 March 2020
Cooperation and Conflict
2020, Vol. 55(1) 107 –126
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0010836719850208
Features of foreign policy
birds: Israeli prime ministers
as hawks and doves
Baris Kesgin
Scholars and policymakers have long used the shorthand of hawks and doves to characterize
leader personalities that correspond to a particular political inclination, whereby hawks are
considered right-wing and more aggressive in foreign policy, and doves are left-wing and more
peaceful. This article posits that a sound discussion of who hawks and doves in foreign policy
are requires an engagement with research on political leadership. It promises a less superficial
understanding of the dichotomy of hawks and doves, and uses leadership trait analysis to
explore hawkish and dovish leaders’ qualities. The article profiles Israel’s prime ministers since
the end of the Cold War, where in a high security environment, these words are most often
used to describe its domestic and foreign matters and its cooperative and conflictual actions.
This article’s findings encourage an unpacking of these commonly used shorthand labels with
political leadership approaches. They are also useful to highlight, most notably, the significance of
complexity and distrust in understanding hawkish and dovish leaders. Hawks think simpler and
are more doubtful of others than doves, this article finds. Future research, the article suggests,
will benefit from looking deeper than simple, dichotomous use of this analogy, and exploring ways
to operationalize individual-level measurements of hawks and doves in foreign policy.
Doves, foreign policy, hawks, Israel’s prime ministers, leadership traits
Hawks and doves are among the most commonly used shorthand labels to characterize
elites’ preferences in foreign and security policy. Journalists and scholars frequently
resort to this dichotomous reading of leaders’ foreign policy preferences across the
world. Every electoral cycle, debates about conflicts, wars, and candidates’ foreign pol-
icy positions evoke hawks and doves in public conversation.1 Common to most portray-
als of hawks and doves is that elites’ willingness to use force in international politics is
what distinguishes these two birds in foreign policy. Hawks, the assumption goes, are
Corresponding author:
Baris Kesgin, Department of Political Science & Policy Studies, Elon University, 2333 Campus Box, Elon, NC
27244, USA.
Email: bkesgin@elon.edu
850208CAC0010.1177/0010836719850208Cooperation and ConflictKesgin
108 Cooperation and Conflict 55(1)
conflictual, while doves are cooperative. Beyond this distinction – notwithstanding the
wide usage of this framing – inquiries into the hawk–dove dichotomy are relatively rare
(e.g. Snyder and Diesing, 1977; see also Holsti, 1979; Rosati and Creed, 1997).
Since hawks and doves refer to individuals, this article argues, a sound discussion of
who they are, what and how they think requires an engagement with research on political
leadership. Here, this article uses a prominent approach to studying political leaders
systematically, leadership trait analysis (LTA), to explore hawkish and dovish leaders’
qualities. LTA offers direct connections to common notions about hawks and doves, and
promises a less superficial understanding of this common shorthand. Based on few
attempts to define hawkish and dovish policy preferences and building upon leadership
studies, this article examines characteristics associated with hawks and doves.
This article starts with an overview of references to this dichotomy in foreign policy
debates.2 Then, it brings in political leadership studies to explore the usefulness of this
simple dichotomy of hawks and doves in explaining foreign policy. Accordingly, the
article develops hypotheses about personality traits of hawks and doves. The article then
introduces the Israeli case as one example that has long invited a systematic analysis of
its hawkish and dovish leaders. Findings support that there are some distinct personality
traits separating hawks from doves. Indeed, this article illustrates that LTA provides a
systematic way to assess hawks and doves. Personality traits of Israeli prime ministers
point to multiple ways Israel’s hawks and doves differ from each other. In conclusion,
this article calls for an exploration of these distinctions and the use of existing approaches
to political leaders beyond a simple typology for a more nuanced understanding of shared
features of foreign policy hawks and doves.
Ornithology in foreign policy
Frequently utilized, yet under studied, the usage of the hawk–dove metaphor is arguably
“impossible to chronicle” (Marks, 2011: 127). The first in-print use of these birds to
refer to foreign policy is during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis (Holsti, 1979; Marks,
2011). In their report, Alsop and Barlett (1962: 20) wrote: “The hawks favored an air
strike to eliminate the Cuban missile bases … The doves opposed the air strikes and
favored a blockade.” This simple distinction between willingness to use force and desire
to pursue diplomacy has continued to separate hawks from doves. Most research that
carries hawks and doves in its titles has not necessarily even defined the terms, but
rather assumed this a priori categorization (Marks, 2011: 129). Hawks and doves, none-
theless, make some memorable titles: among others, When Doves Cry (Colaresi, 2004)
and Why Hawks Become Doves (Ziv, 2014).
The birds’ appearance in the title, or numerous references to them in the text, may or
may not suggest a clear definition beyond a distinction between conflict and cooperation,
if any is provided at all.3 In other cases, when there is a definition, it may not go beyond
this basic understanding. For instance, in his study about politics of peace, Schultz’s
(2005) hawks appear to be simply those who would not seek peace/cooperation. In this
piece, Schultz presents a compelling case that when initiated by a hawkish political party,
peace/cooperation has a better chance to endure in the long run.4 Similarly, Wallace et al.
(1993) distinguish between hawks and doves solely based on Congress members’ vote to

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