PhD Thesis


The Politics of Intervention:

The Role of Psychological Distance in Foreign Policy Decision Making

By Sorina I. Crisan, PhD

Thesis N° 1297, 2019

The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies


Abstract: ​Although much has been written to explain a superpower’s rationale when deciding to engage in a military intervention, not enough research has been conducted to analyze why their allies choose to support such foreign policy decisions. By combining an international relations perspective of military interventions with a social psychology understanding of Psychological Distance, part of Construal Level Theory, and with the field of mathematics, this study develops a new theory to explain why and when junior allies choose to support a superpower’s military intervention.

NVivo coding example for the rhetoric employed by U.S. and Australian political elites to describe a potential intervention in Iraq (early 2000s).

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Iraq War Discourse Pie Chart showing the proportion of themes addressed by political elites with respect to a potential military intervention.

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Media Coverage



Dr. Crisan was interviewed about her PhD thesis by the Graduate Institute, in Geneva. In this interview she talks about the overall themes addressed in the thesis, the main findings of her research, the challenges and opportunities of conducting research and analysis at PhD level, etc. To read the interview, click on the following button. 

Main Concept



Psychological Distance (PD) is the main theoretical concept utilized in this thesis. To learn more about the different meanings that 'distance' may have within the field of international relations (IR) and to understand how this concept impacts various sub-fields of IR, please read the article: Psychological vs. Social Distance: How They Apply to Your Life & to Research. 




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PhD Defence Committee

      Prof. David Sylvan, PhD | Thesis Director

      Prof. Stephanie Hofmann, PhD | Internal Reader & President of the Defence Committee

      Prof. Richard Herrmann, PhD | External Reader

Crisan successfully defended her PhD in a public defence on October 30th, 2018, at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva.

Illustrations: Courtesy of Sorina Crisan.