What if? Counterfactual Trump and the western response to the war in Ukraine

Juliet Kaarbo, Kai Oppermann, Ryan K. Beasley

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Because of his personality, had Donald Trump won the 2020 election the remarkable and unexpected united response by NATO allies to the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine would not have happened. Relying on leader personality research in foreign policy, we demonstrate this by using the counterfactual method of analysis. Specifying key differences between Biden's and Trump's personalities in terms of their experiences, traits and beliefs, we explicitly show that president Trump would have been very unlikely to share US intelligence, rally NATO allies in support of Ukraine or challenge Vladimir Putin. In contrast, these responses fit very well with Joe Biden's personality. We first present counterfactual analysis as a method before comparing Biden and Trump along personality characteristics known to significantly influence foreign-policy decisions. Through our case-study, we demonstrate the value of using systematic and theoretically grounded counterfactual methods for assessing the importance of individual differences between leaders and emphasizing their impact on international affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-624
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2023


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