Decision Making - Survey of fpa theoretical approaches




Individual Psychology and Cognition Characteristics of the individual decision maker may be very important in understanding the decisions ultimately made. Harold and Margaret Sprout, in their pioneering work Man-Milieu Relationship Hypotheses in the Context of International Politics (1956), believe that analysis of this "psychomilieu" is crucial to understanding nation-state foreign policy. Margaret G. Hermann argues that certain conditions increase the probability that the personal characteristics of leaders will affect foreign policy: when the decision maker has wide decision latitude within the governmental system, when the situation is nonroutine, ambiguous, or carries with it very high stakes, or when the policy under discussion is a long-term policy or strategy. In addition to these situational variables, the personality of a leader may also be more influential, according to Hermann, when the leader does not have formal diplomatic training or when the leader is not especially attentive or sensitive to changes in external circumstances.

Furthermore, the analyst must remain aware of the limitations and vulnerabilities of human beings, both in a physical sense and a cognitive sense. Physically, human decision making can be affected by stress levels, lack of sleep, acute or chronic illness, mental pathologies, medications being used, age, and so forth. For example, psychologists have found that decision making tends to be of higher quality when moderate levels of stress are present. Too low a stress level or too high a stress level can be counterproductive. But there are also cognitive limitations inherent in being human. The human brain is so complex that human beings often rely on reasoning shortcuts or heuristics to make decisions. Errors of representation, the "gambler's fallacy" (where the gambler believes that an outcome is more likely to occur if it has not occurred lately), and many other biases may affect choice. Furthermore, a person's ability to handle complexity has an upper limit: psychologists tell us that even the most conceptually complex human reasoner can only hold seven things in mind simultaneously. Robert Jervis explores these factors in depth in Perception and Misperception in International Politics (1976).

Humans are also a diverse lot in terms of their personal belief systems. At birth, each human begins to develop beliefs about how the world works and what is to be valued. In FPA, several scholars have created theoretical frameworks to typologize such belief systems. Margaret Hermann created a set of "foreign policy orientations" based on elements such as nationalism, belief in ability to control events, distrust of others, and task-affect orientation, among others. Alexander George promulgated the tool of "operational code analysis," wherein the analyst determines a leader's beliefs with reference to how best to accomplish goals. David Winter has sought to typologize the motivating forces for individual leaders. Such frameworks of analysis often rely on the methodology of content analysis, where a leader's speeches and writings are analyzed thematically or quantitatively to provide insight into the specifics of his or her belief system. Learning and change in knowledge systems has been a focus of inquiry for Jack Levy, and Matthew Bonham's methodology of cognitive mapping of content-analyzed material can be used to trace changes in knowledge structures over time.

Small-Group Dynamics and Problem Representation It is arguably within the context of small-group deliberations that most foreign policy decisions are made. Thus, the study of group decision making becomes a very important element of FPA. As noted, FPA owes a great debt to Richard Snyder and his colleagues Henry Bruck and Burton Sapin for insisting that researchers look below the nation-state level of analysis to the actual decision-making groups involved.

With regard to small groups in particular, as opposed to larger collectivities such as organizations and bureaucracies, the seminal work is undoubtedly Irving Janis's classic Groupthink (1972). Using examples taken from the annals of American foreign policy, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion, Janis was able to show how the desire to maintain group consensus and subjective feelings of personal acceptance by the group can cause deterioration of decision-making quality. Such groups wind up being "soft-headed" but "hardhearted" as outgroups are dehumanized and ingroup decision processes become sloppier. A hallmark of groupthink is the risky shift, where the group is prepared to make riskier decisions than any individual member of the group would be prepared to make on his own. A sense of group invulnerability and omniscience creates psychological disincentives to rethinking the group's initially preferred policy or even to constructing contingency plans in the event of failure of that policy. A later generation of scholars advanced Janis's work and explored the scope conditions under which groupthink is more or less likely.

The study of how a group comes to an initial representation of the problem at hand, and how, then, the group members aggregate their differing preferences, is another research agenda at this level of analysis. One way of analyzing group problem representation is to view group discussions as the attempt to jointly author a "story" that makes the problem intelligible. Donald A. Sylvan and Deborah Haddad, in the volume Problem Representation in Foreign Policy Decision Making (1998), suggest that such coauthorship allows for the action decision to be made collectively. When rival story lines are offered and collide, the group as a whole must work its way back to a consistent story line through persuasion and analysis. Yuen Foon Khong's important book Analogies at War (1992) demonstrates how the use of the conflicting analogies to frame the problem of Vietnam led to conceptual difficulties in reasoning about policy options. The "Korea" analogy gained ascendance, according to Khong, without sufficient attention paid to the incongruities between the two sets of circumstances. Thus, the debate over metaphors and analogies used to understand a new situation may predispose a group's policy response, possibly with tragic consequences.

How the structure and the process of a group affect decision outcomes, making some outcomes more or less likely, is also an interesting question. The role played by the members—as representatives of a larger group, or as autonomous actors— coupled with the size of the group and the leadership style used, may make deadlock more probable than agreement. These structural variables may in turn be influenced by rules for resolving conflict within the group, such as majority voting, two-thirds voting, or unanimity. Theory on coalition-building and bargaining may be invaluable in understanding how a particular decision is ultimately selected. Furthermore, certain types of leaders prefer certain types of group structures and processes. Theoretical leverage on the most likely outcome for various types of groups may be gained by these types of analysis.

Organizational Process and Bureaucratic Politics Although actual foreign policy decisions may be made primarily in small groups, the policy positions of group members and the subsequent implementation of decisions made by small groups are only well understood when the analyst includes insights at the organizational and bureaucratic levels of analysis. American foreign policy is dominated by several large organizations, such as the Defense Department and the State Department, and the resulting web of organizations—the bureaucracy—may have a political dynamic all its own. Indeed, to see this bureaucracy as merely the executive arm of foreign policy is to underestimate the powerful political forces that drive organizations. These powerful motivations—the desire for expanded "turf," expanded budget, expanded influence vis-à-vis other organizations, as well as the desire to maintain organizational "essence," "morale," and "culture"—may result in a radical undermining of the supposedly rational decision-making process in foreign policy. Morton Halperin's Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (1974) gives unforgettable examples of this unhappy dynamic with reference to the era of the Vietnam War.

Graham Allison's 1971 Essence of Decision (and its 1999 update) examines not only the subversion of rationality at the decision-making stage but also the subversion of rationality at the implementation end. Large organizations typically develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) that allow for quicker, more efficient responses than would otherwise be possible with collectivities numbering in the thousands or even millions of persons. Unfortunately, these SOPs are fairly insensitive to the nuances of external circumstances as well as to efforts by national leaders to adapt or modify them. Indeed, national leaders may not even comprehend that when they give an executive order it is first translated into a series of sequential SOP steps. This translation may leave much to be desired in terms of flexibility, creativity, and appropriateness. For example, Allison found that the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, given the order in 1962 to construct ballistic missile sites in Cuba, used the same SOP they had developed for doing so in the Soviet Union. This SOP did not include a provision for camouflaging the construction sites. Thus, American U-2s were able to photograph the sites, and American analysts were immediately able to identify what they were, giving President John F. Kennedy and his advisers a crucial window of time in which to compel the Soviets to abandon their intentions.

Domestic Politics Surely there is no better case than that of American foreign policy with which to demonstrate the influence of domestic political considerations on policymaking. The chief executive must stand for election every four years and as a result may be constrained in his ability to act as he otherwise would absent such electoral considerations. The Congress and the judiciary also have unique roles to play in American foreign policy, and players there may also be facing political imperatives. The two-party system of American politics also plays havoc with the rationality of decision making, as actors must not only think of their own well-being but the relative standing of their party vis-à-vis the other. Furthermore, the variety of vocal special interest and lobbying groups, not only national but also transnational in nature, is positively dizzying.

Robert Putnam suggests that we understand foreign policy as a "two-level game" being played by the leadership of the nation. At one level, the leadership is trying to retain its domestic political standing and enhance its electoral prospects and the electoral prospects of its allies. At another level, the leadership is trying to negotiate with foreign powers to achieve foreign policy objectives. A bad move at either level can imperil one's prospects at the other level. The astute leader attempts to create opportunities whereby moves at one level directly translate into advantage at the other. Interestingly, one counterintuitive finding is that the more constrained the leader can claim to be in the domestic arena, the more insistent he can be in the foreign arena. Thus, the threat that the U.S. Congress would never ratify a particular treaty can be used by administration officials to successfully maneuver other foreign actors to move closer to their own preferred bargaining position.

Of course, the reverse is also a recognizable phenomenon in international relations. Sometimes international situations or policies are used by the government to deflect domestic criticism and bolster support among its citizenry. The oftnoted "rally 'round the flag" effect, wherein an international crisis involving confrontation with a hostile power increases the approval rating of a president, is one that sometimes is purposefully used by an embattled regime. Both Argentina and Great Britain arguably used the Falklands controversy of 1982 for this purpose.

Joe D. Hagan has attempted to create a cross-national database of the fragmentation and vulnerability of political regimes, with special reference to executive and legislative structures. His data set includes ninety-four regimes for thirty-eight nations over a ten-year period. He was able to assess whether foreign policy behavior, such as level of commitment in policy, is affected by political opposition. He discovered, among many other findings, that military or party opposition to the regime does indeed constrain possible foreign policy action.

In addition to more formal political group influence, there has been a robust research agenda tracing the relationship between U.S. public opinion and U.S. foreign policy. After World War II but before the Vietnam War era, it was an American truism that public opinion did not drive foreign policy, as "politics stopped at the water's edge." The Vietnam trauma undermined that consensus, and this was accelerated by the end of the Cold War and the rise of the global economy. Now Americans could see plainly that what happened in Thailand, for instance, might affect their pensions. International arrangements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization could be seen to have local effects. The responsiveness of the national leadership to public opinion can be seen most plainly in the swift retreat of U.S. forces in Somalia following the downing of two American helicopters in Mogadishu, with television footage of a paratrooper's body being dragged through the streets by an angry mob. Truly, as many have said, there is now a tangible "CNN effect" that must be taken into account when studying American foreign policy.

Culture and Ideational Social Construction Those FPA scholars who study the effects of culture and ideational social construction on foreign policy justifiably assert that what large collectivities believe to be true and believe to be good affects what those collectivities then do. The world is not only material—it is ideational—and often the ideational can be a more powerful force than the material.

One way to examine this issue is to investigate the effects of differences in culture on resultant foreign policy. Each national culture constructs a unique web of beliefs, meanings, values, and capabilities based on their idiosyncratic historical experiences. The "heroic history" of a nation is replete with lessons in what is precious and how one best protects those values. Such differences may aggravate internation hostilities, sometimes even unintentionally. For example, on the eve of serious negotiations, American negotiators are likely to state what they think an acceptable compromise would be and view their task as persuading the other party of the correctness of this view. Chinese negotiators, on the other hand, are likely to denounce their negotiating partner on the eve of serious negotiations, suggesting there can be no compromise at all. Unless each party understands the cultural proclivities of the other, fundamental misunderstanding and heightened hostilities may result.

Value differences may lead to misunderstanding as well. For example, Americans proudly proclaim that they would never negotiate with terrorists or give in to their demands. The Japanese, on the other hand, see no shame at all in negotiating with terrorists. When faced with a threat by another nation, the American response is to isolate and threaten that nation. However, in a 1999 study, Valerie A. Hudson found the Russian response was to befriend and trade with that nation so that the threat might be erased in a peaceful manner.

How do these differences in culture arise in the first place? They arise through a shared national experience that is interpreted by human agents who then undertake the task of persuading their compatriots that this interpretation is a good and appropriate one. Scholarly work has been done on each of these elements.

Helen Purkitt has used the methodology of "think-aloud protocol" to study how it is that an individual comes to an interpretation of a situation. Experimental subjects, including policymakers, were asked by Purkitt to verbalize their thought processes as they deliberated on policy issues. Purkitt thus was able to "see" which aspects of a situation were salient for which persons, how they synthesized uncertainty with analogy in their interpretations, and how soon it took for a particular interpretation to become accepted and treated as a natural interpretation for a situation. G. R. Boynton used textual exegesis of congressional hearings to investigate crystallization of understanding among committee members, finding that members would attempt to narrate a version of the events under question to each other and build a coherent narrative of the whole through smaller pieces upon which all could agree. Only when testimony had been translated into recognizable elements from this jointly constructed narrative were committee members able to fully understand the events.

In addition to the construction of meaning for individuals and small groups of decision makers, meanings may be constructed and shared among larger groups as well. National identity is continually evolving. Although the roots of national identity may lie in the history of the nation, it is current interpretation of that identity that may be more useful to the analyst. One important theoretical framework in this area of inquiry is the national-role-conception approach first developed by Kal Holsti in 1970. He argues that any social system, including a social system made up of nation-states, creates a set of differentiable roles that include both privileges and responsibilities. A variety of factors, including domestic conditions, distribution of power within the system of states, history, legal precedent, and others, help determine which nations gravitate toward which roles. A nation-state then develops a distinctive national role conception, which renders that nation-state's behavior more intelligible and predictable to the analyst. So, for example, though the United States may see itself in the role of a "bloc leader" (leader of the Western bloc), France views itself as a "regional leader" in Europe. Such self-conceptions may clash, as they often do in the case of France and the United States. National-role-conception analysis may uncover differences that might otherwise go unnoticed; for example Marijke Breuning points out that although Americans might lump Belgium and the Netherlands together as nations with very similar attributes, the Dutch tend to see themselves playing a proactive role in encouraging development in less developed countries due to their heroic history of involvement in exploration and colonization. Belgium, on the other hand, a creation of the major European powers, never took such an initiative and became a particularly indifferent former colonial power.

National identity or national role conceptions do change over time. Tracking that change involves detailed analysis of speeches and texts by those who help form opinion within society. Ideas are very useful to policy entrepreneurs, and identifying who is pushing what idea for what reason may help the analyst keep his or her finger on the course of identity evolution within a nation-state. Often ideas must be couched in the language of historical national identity to find favor with larger national audiences. For example, Hellmut Lotz noted in 1997 that on the eve of the Al Gore–Ross Perot debate over NAFTA, a sizable percentage of Americans were undecided over whether the agreement to include Mexico in a free trade agreement with the United States and Canada was a good thing or not. During the course of the televised debate, both men made reference to key themes of American national identity: the American Dream, American exceptionalism, American strength, American vulnerability, American isolationism, and so forth. Lotz found that the audience of undecideds resonated overwhelmingly with the Gore portrayal of America as strong and fearless rather than with the Perot portrayal of America as weak and needing to protect itself from foreigners. Thus, despite the fact that both men were speaking in the context of shared meaning concerning America, Gore was the more successful policy entrepreneur, for he was able to sway voters to his position by means of his selective emphasis on strategically chosen aspects of American identity. In a similar vein, in a 1993 article Jeffrey Checkel was able to reconstruct the trail of policy-entrepreneur intervention in the development of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika policies. To trace the positions and the network contacts of persons holding particular ideas is a formidable task for the analyst, but one which is very rewarding if the focus is on possible change in, rather than continuity of, foreign policy direction.

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