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Foreign Policy Analysis and International Security

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IR1006 – Foreign Policy Analysis and International Security - Exam Revision

Link to Russia and its approach to Intl. Society Q;

In order to better understand the meaning of a pluralist and a solidarist vision of international society, it is important to recall what an international society, in an English School perspective, is. The better definition, still, is provided by Hedley Bull: “A society of states (or international society) exists when a group of states, conscious of certain common interests and common values, form a society in the sense that they conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another, and share in the working of common institutions” (Bull 1977: 13). Two elements of this definition are of the utmost importance for fully comprehending the two concepts of pluralism and solidarism: common interests and values on the one hand and common set of rules on the other one.

In a pluralist international society, the common interests and values can be said to be the

Westphalian ones, i.e. the avoidance of any kind of interference in domestic affairs, the territorial

and political survival, the maintenance of the state’s position as the only legitimized subject of

international law, the relatively peaceful coexistence and the implementation of the minimal degree

of cooperation among the units in the system. The rules deputed to make these interests and values

effective and preserved are, therefore, the reciprocal recognition of sovereignty and the principle of

non-intervention. To say it in Manning's words, in a pluralist international society states are

“constitutionally insular” (1972).

Conversely, in a solidarist international society the common interests and values are said to

be much wider in scope, going beyond the mere coexistence among states but instead creating a

framework for elevating the individual to a position of subject in respect to international law and for

sustained cooperation in a larger field of issues, such as the preservation and the implementation of

human rights, the protection of the environment, the establishment of a single market and so on. It is

straightforward that in a solidarist view of international society the concepts of sovereignty and

non-intervention, the two pillars of the pluralist vision, are defined in a looser and less rigid way;

moreover, it is straightforward as well that a solidarist international society is derivative of a

pluralist one, being impossible implementing further and deeper forms of cooperation without the

necessary basis of mutual recognition among units.

These two positions resemble Bull’s former distinction between rules of coexistence and

rules of cooperation.

Week 2 – Theories and Models of FPA

  1. Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making, Mintz and DeRouen 2010

EXAM Q – How does the Rational Actor Model explain foreign policy decision making?

Analysing foreign policy decisions can uncover the cognitive processes that lead to foreign policy making and ‘get into the minds’ of leaders who make the decisions. It can help identify unique and general patterns of decisions and generate insights about leadership styles and personalities that cannot be revealed through a systemic approach to FPA.

‘Intermestic’ approach to FPA – domestic issues can shape foreign policy. Value trade-offs refer to how domestic values such as the desire of leaders to stay in power can drive the direction of foreign policy.

The decision-making approach to FPA has often been overshadowed by the unitary, rational actor assumption common to the study of International Relations. But in recent decades, there has been a compelling body of literature highlighting the psychology of FPDM of groups, coalitions and leaders. This body of literature has been important for developing an understanding of the diffuse sources of power from which foreign policies emerge along with the biases and errors which inevitably arise from the role of individual decision units which formulate foreign policy.

Many scholarly analyses of FPDM proceed from the rational actor assumption. This assumption is grounded in realist thought which assumes that states, as unitary actors, act to maximise gains and minimise losses while navigating an anarchic international system. In this model, the rational decision maker chooses from among a set of alternatives, the alternative that maximises expected utility.

(EXAM Q) Point that it is used to OPTIMIZE the decision-making process itself – Decisions can be made by a person or small group searching for the optimal outcome. The executive relies on bureaucrats to provide information for the decision process and once the decision is made, the role of the bureaucracy is to implement that decision. Historically, we can see cases of bureaucratic reorganization with the aim of optimising the process itself. After WW2, the National Security Act merged the departments of War and Navy into the Defence Department under one secretary. This served the purpose of centralising the security realm at a time when the US was redefining its international role.

Cognitive models generally posit that the rational actor assumption is not realised in practice. Many cognitive processes are indicative of bias and error – offer more realistic interpretations of how the human mind really works.

Cognitive models take into account the high costs of information gathering, time pressure, ambiguity, memory problems, misperceptions, organizational structure and other factors which enter into most decisions.

Basic debate – Cognitive models under framework of a Psychological approach to FPA vs. Rational Actor, Realist Approach

EXAM BROAD Q – Which level of analysis do you find most useful for understanding foreign policy and why? 

The Level of Analysis in FPDM

(Levels of analysis in FPDM diff. from those in IR – where scholars speak of the indiv., state and intl. system as main analytical units – in FPDM the units specifically refer to entities making decisions)

FP decisions can be examined from 3 main levels; the..

  1. Individual
  2. Group
  3. Coalition

Individual-Level Decisions

  • Key premise of the decision-making approach to foreign policy and IR assumes the importance of leaders in the explanation of FP decisions who act on their own definitions of the situation in world politics.
  • Individual-level decisions more likely when leaders have an inordinate amount of power within the state – dictatorships. Powerful leaders like Mao Tse-tung of China, Fidel Castro of Cuba or Suddam Hussein of Iraq rarely need to seek consensus in decisions – intl. constraints not a major factor for these decision makers.
  • Individuals also v. imp. In times of crisis. Political psychologist Margaret Hermann notes that crises, high-level diplomacy and leader interest increase probability of indiv.-level decision making.
  • Example; decisions to go to war or participate in international summits often assoc. with decision making by a dominant individual.
  • Studies of individual decision making also address psychological factors involved (psychological approach to FPDM here?) – i.e. personality of the decision maker, evoked set, cognitive consistency and misperception; on 9/11 the then mayor of New York city made critical decisions seemingly on the spur of the moment.

Group-Level Decisions  

  • FP decisions made by groups as well, not simply powerful individuals.
  • Yet concepts such as Groupthink and group polarization also highlight the potential biases and errors that group decision making can lead to.
  • EXAM Q POINT – variety of group-level decisions;
  • There are prototypal groups such as President Kennedy’s executive committee (EXCOM) which dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis – exemplifying how a group can be organised to address an ad hoc problem.
  • Yet there are also other groups like the Soviet Politburo and American Joint Chiefs of Staff who contend with ongoing policy debates and operational issues.

  • Combination of being able to study decision-making in separate crisis situations as well as patterns in long-term foreign policy arguably means group-level analysis offers a more comprehensive scholarly understanding of foreign policy than looking at individual-level decision making where the extent of individual accountability can be hard to ascertain. Particularly true in liberal democracies like the UK where opposition in parliament can effectively limit the agency of leaders in foreign policy decision-making.
  • The group comprises members whose allegiance is primarily directed within the group and the actors do not have to consult others outside the group. Decision reached by the group is one which emerges after debate.
  • Unlike individual-level model, certain group dynamics can influence the decision process – GROUPTHINK TYPICAL EXAMPLE (Irving Janis 1982) – members strive to avoid conflict which often occurs in groups and work towards concurrence –sometimes avoiding the rational conclusion.
  • Group-level decisions can also be USEFUL for informing the workings of the bureaucratic politics approach to FPA, in the context of government agencies or cabinets. Lengthy, drawn-out policies dealing with such issues as intl. terror, AIDS in Africa or global warming often involve bureaucratic agencies. Decisions here involve a fair amount of political power struggle and debate between agencies and influential bureaucrats. Political conflict and differences in opinion are accepted as being inevitable.
  • Characteristic of group dynamics in this context is that agency representatives are typically loyal to their agency first and foremost – this can be a challenge to executives.

Coalition decision making

  • No single actor in this decision unit can make a decision unilaterally – therefore, some level of bargaining and leverage between these relatively independent actors.
  • Rather than members’ allegiance being directed WITHIN the group, as with group-level decision-making, in coalition D-M, first level of allegiance is directed outside the group toward the party or constituency of the coalition members.
  • No one actor can decide state policy on the intl. stage as a result.
  • Member’s allegiances highlight certain coalition dynamics such as majority rule and minimum-winning coalitions which in turn affect the types of decisions made.
  • Coalition dynamics shaped by size factors;
  • Minimum-winning coalition refers to the minimum number of parties needed to keep the coalition in power – no need for surplus parties as credit and resources would have to be shared.
  • Ireland and Gartner (2001) observe that cabinet coalition structure is a strong indicator of the likelihood of conflict initiation – role of ‘veto players’ – a party whose agreement is needed to change status quo – often adds to the difficulty of reaching significant policy change.
  • Sense of conflict in coalition govt.’s also heightened due as due to sheer number of parties involved, blame is shared if things go wrong.
  • Coalition decision making – involves invoking certain rules and guidelines to make a decision. Decision will often be based on a simple majority rule. Small parties can be pivotal if they have the capacity to bring down the govt. with their defection.

CASE STUDY – Israel’s Foreign Policy Making by Coalition



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