This introductory framing paper theorizes the role of legitimation—the public justification of policy—in the making of grand strategy. We contend that the process of legitimation has significant and independent effects on grand strategy’s constituent elements and on how grand strategy is formulated and executed. Legitimation is integral to how states define the national interest and identify threats, to how the menu of policy options is constituted, and to how audiences are mobilized. Second, we acknowledge that legitimation matters more at some times than others, and we develop a model specifying the conditions under which it affects political processes and outcomes. We argue that the impact of legitimation depends on the government’s need for mobilization and a policy’s visibility, and from the intersection of these two factors we derive five concrete hypotheses regarding when legitimation is most likely to have an impact on strategy. Finally, we explore who wins: why legitimation efforts sometimes succeed in securing public assent, yet at other times fall short. Our framework emphasizes what is said (the content of legitimation), how it is said (technique), and the context in which it is said. We conclude by introducing the papers in this special issue, revisiting the larger theoretical stakes involved in studying rhetoric and foreign policy, and speculating about how changes in the technologies and sites of communication have, or have not, transformed legitimation and leadership in world politics.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
For support of the collective project, we acknowledge the financial support of the International Studies Association, which funded the aforementioned workshop.