Decision Making - Structural and systemic factors

Although foreign policy analysis places its focus on decision makers and decision making, government officials are not ignorant of salient features of the international system. Characteristics of the international system may constrain what policymakers feel they can do, but simultaneously may provide opportunities to advance their nation-states' purposes. Furthermore, nation-states can attempt to reflexively shape the system in such a way that their nation-state is more secure.

Two broad approaches to this topic may be differentiated. One approach is to examine the national attributes of nations, including a comparison of such attributes. Nation-state behavior and internation interaction may then be explained by reference to these attributes. Second, one could look at the system in a more abstract manner, by investigating non-unit-specific factors such as anarchy within a system, the existence of international regimes on particular issues, evolving conceptualizations of legitimate and illegitimate behavior within the system, and so forth.

Regarding the first, attribute-centered approach, one of the classic works of foreign policy analysis is the "pre-theory" framework of James Rosenau. In a seminal 1966 article, Rosenau suggests that the key to understanding a nation-state's behavior is to uncover its "genotype." That is, every nation has particular attributes that may make certain factors more determinant of its foreign policy than others. Using three dichotomous variables (size: small/large; wealth: developed/underdeveloped; accountability: open/closed), Rosenau posited eight genotypes: small/developed/open; large/underdeveloped/closed, and so on. Depending on the genotype of the nation under scrutiny, Rosenau then posits that certain factors would be more important for the analyst to investigate. So, for example, in a large/developed/open nation-state, Rosenau asserts that role variables (akin to national role conception) would be the most important factor, with systemic and idiosyncratic (for example, personal characteristics of leaders) being least important. On the other hand, in a small/underdeveloped/closed nation-state, idiosyncratic and systemic factors would be precisely those of greatest significance.

A more modern variant of this attributional approach is the theory of the democratic peace, which highlights the empirical fact that democracies virtually never go to war with one another. Although some have debated the definition of democracy (is Yugoslavia a democracy?), and others have suggested that democracy here is serving as a stand-in for a more fundamental factor such as cultural similarity, the behavior of nation-states is again being explained in terms of their attributes. Indeed, one might claim this approach can also subsume Marxist-Leninist explanations of war, which focus on the profit imperatives of imperialist states to explain the bellicosity of the European powers.

The second approach—more oriented to the structure of the system itself as opposed to the attributes of its members—is a well-established research tradition in international relations. Here, no matter what the attributes of states, the system itself may express properties that can be determinant of state behavior. So, for example, in the work of Kenneth Waltz, the primary factor affecting state behavior is the anarchy of the international system. In the absence of a world government, benign or tyrannical, able to enforce a code of behavior, states must help themselves, for they cannot trust other states in the system not to deflect from pledges of cooperation that they may have made. An emphasis on deterrence, a search for primacy and power, and a notable lack of cooperation even on important issues are all hallmarks of anarchy. Even states that actively desire to behave otherwise may be constrained by the straitjacket of system structure in this theory.

There may be other elements of the system that fine-tune the effects of anarchy. For example, the existence or nonexistence of intergovernmental organizations, the strength of international legal precedent, the number of poles of power in the system (bipolar, tripolar, multipolar), the degree of globalization of interaction (including trade and communication), patterns of internation dependency, relevant technology (such as the development of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missiles to hurl them half a world away), may all play a role in modifying the effects of anarchy. Some theorists assert that anarchy can be overcome among states dealing with particular issues, and real sacrifice and cooperation can then be expressed by the nation-state. Agreements on ozone depletion, destruction of chemical and biological weapons, renunciation of land mines, and so forth can be seen as examples of this interpretation.

Other scholars would go even farther and claim that nation-states can proactively shape and mold the international system. As one such theorist, Alexander Wendt, put it in 1992, "anarchy is what states make of it." Drawing upon the more ideational literature mentioned, Wendt and others believe that shared meanings develop between governments in the system and that such shared meanings can transform what happens in the world system. For example, norms against genocide, assassination, rape in war, torture, slavery, use of land mines, and so forth have arisen within the international system and are becoming a robust basis for international action. Before the 1990s it would have been inconceivable for the former president of Chile, Augusto Pinochet, to have been held for an extradition hearing in Britain on the order of a Spanish judge. Yet by the turn of the twenty-first century Americans were wondering whether their own leaders might be tried for war crimes in a new international criminal court. These evolving norms did not arise from material conditions but from the formation of an ideational consensus or near-consensus.

In sum, then, the international systemic context of decision making must be factored into the theories of leader personality, small group dynamics, and bureaucratic and domestic politics that we have already examined.

Events Data No discussion of foreign policy analysis or decision-making theories would be complete without at least a cursory mention of events data. In most of the theories pitched at the subnational level of analysis mentioned, data indicative of the process of decision making hold center stage. Thus, content analysis of speeches and texts, analysis of tapes or records of group discussions, simulations and experiments, and process-tracing and other methodologies that lay bare the actual mechanics of decisions and their antecedents and consequences typically predominate the empirics of these theoretical efforts. We have previously mentioned that one could also focus on the outcomes of decision-making processes. The events data movement was designed to do just that.

Conceived when the social sciences were enamored of aggregate statistical testing of generalized hypotheses, the foreign policy "event" was to be the intellectual counterpart of the "vote" in the study of American politics. Votes could be tabulated, and a variety of statistical tests could be performed, to determine whether voting correlated with possible explanatory factors such as race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and so forth. The foreign policy event was to have the same utility for international relations.

One could imagine tabulating every action every nation took every day, whether those actions be of a more diplomatic or rhetorical nature or something more concrete, such as the use of military force. A number of variables would naturally be coded, such as the identity of the acting nation, the identity of the recipients of the action, the date, and some scaling or categorization of the action itself. These events would be gleaned from open source material, such as newspapers and wire services. Once thousands of events had been collected, aggregate statistical testing for robust correlations, longitudinal tracking of the evolving relationships between any given nations, patterns preceding the outbreak of violence in the system, and a host of other potentially interesting questions could then be addressed.

Even the U.S. government was sufficiently interested in the potential of this data collection effort to fund various projects to the tune of several million dollars in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these event data sets continued to be updated into the twenty-first century, some by computer programs. The more famous events data sets include WEIS (World Event/Interaction Survey), COPDAB (Conflict and Peace Data Bank), CREON (Comparative Research on the Events of Nations), and KEDS (Kansas Events Data Set).

Events data began to lose its appeal to the wider subfield as it became understood that much of the richness and complexity of decision making was simply missing in an events data format. Thus foreign policy analysis largely returned to the study of process variables more conducive to a focus on decision making.

Integrative Efforts We have spoken of foreign policy analysis as a radically integrative intellectual exercise that requires the analyst to know quite a bit about phenomena at a variety of levels of analysis, from leader personality to system characteristics. All of this information must then be filtered through one's model of the decision makers and the decision-making process in order to gauge what policy choices are most likely in a given situation. This is a fairly tall order, and yet the foreign policy and national security establishment of the U.S. government must make these types of analyses every day.

It would be desirable for the foreign policy analysis scholarly community to offer some advice on how this is to be done in a theoretical sense. How does one actually accomplish such integration? What are the possible outputs of such an integrative exercise? Perhaps not surprisingly, FPA scholars struggle to provide such advice. When Rosenau wrote his "pre-theory" article in the 1960s, with its goal of tracing the influence of factors across several levels of analysis, the most he could offer was a ranking of the importance of each level of analysis based on the genotype of the nation under study. Frankly, FPA has not progressed much past Rosenau's offering; almost forty years later very little self-consciously integrative theoretical work existed in FPA. The CREON II project (1971–1993) developed a creative theoretical framework for integration. Three fundamental components comprised the model. In the first, called Situational Imperative, the details of the situation at hand, including the type of problem, the relationships between the nation-states involved in the problem, the power distribution across the involved nations, and other variables would provide a macro-level "cut" at what the probable foreign policy choice would be. A second component, called Societal Structure and Status, would offer information from the levels of domestic politics and culture. The third and central component was termed the Ultimate Decision Unit. Into this component, representing the actual decision makers in their decision-making setting, information from the first two components of the model would be introduced.

Three types of ultimate decision units were envisioned. Each type of unit came with its own set of most important decision-making variables. For example, in a predominant leader decision unit, variables relating to the head of state and his or her interaction with advisers and style of processing information about the situation at hand would be most important. In the second type of unit, the single group decision unit, theoretical literature about small-group structures and processes, groupthink, and coalition building become crucial. In the third type of unit, the multiple autonomous actor decision unit, literature about bargaining and conflict resolution would be most salient. In another innovative move, country experts would be asked to provide the majority of the inputs for the models. Several empirical cases analyzed by the decision units model were presented in a special issue of the journal Political Psychology in 2001.

The Question of Evaluation Before concluding this survey of foreign policy analysis literature, it must be noted that although the contemporary focus is on explanation of foreign policy, the subfield began with the aspiration that the insights of FPA could be used to evaluate and improve the quality of foreign policy decision making. Many early FPA scholars, such as Irving Janis and Morton Halperin, understood that the price of low-quality foreign policy decisions was death for innocent persons, both combatants and noncombatants. Indeed, in an era of nuclear weapons, the scale of such tragic deaths could be massive. If no other subfield of international relations attempts it, at least FPA should shoulder the responsibility of revealing the true and large extent to which human agency shapes international affairs. By such revelation, useful lessons and insights for the policymakers of today and tomorrow might be drawn.

Although much of scholarly FPA has turned from that task, at the turn of the twenty-first century there were still scholars dedicated to its fulfillment. Alexander George, in particular, through such works as Bridging the Gap (1993), has done much to keep this normative agenda alive. Works in this vein, such as Good Judgment in Foreign Policy (2001), edited by Stanley Renshon and Deborah Welch Larsen, continued to appear. It is hoped that a fuller engagement of agential questions will arise again within the subfield of FPA. From such an engagement, greater policy relevance will be achieved, which would be a positive step forward.

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