Free «Foreign policy decision making» Essay Sample

Foreign policy decision making (FPDM) is a subject that has attracted many scholars. The reason of studying FPDM has been important since these decisions are usually made under information and time constraints necessitating the quick and most plausible actions. They involve: sunk costs, value-trade-offs, are affected by views and misperceptions, beliefs and belief systems, images, internal economic and political calculations, as well as interests and agendas. Foreign policy decisions are also impacted through a series of international matters of deterrence, strategic surprise, the arms race, the enemies’ regime type, alliances, and many other issues. Leaders are prone to the cognitive biases and errors in formulating foreign policy decisions. Such biases include wishful thinking, shooting from the hip, plunging in, overconfidence among others as covered in this book report. Such biases could be dangerous in making foreign policies, and that is why the study on FPDM has introduced the opinion and research of many scholars, including Alex Mintz and Karl DeRouen in Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making.


The book Understanding Foreign Policy Decision Making written by Alex Minz and Karl DeRouen tackle a comprehensive subject about foreign policy decision making. Initially, the authors highlight the reasons why it is important to study about the foreign policy from a perspective of decision making. The choices of foreign policy according to Minz, and Derouen (p.1), “range from the dramatic to the mundane.” Many decisions have been made by leaders in the past to go to war, form alliances, make peace or even develop diplomatic relationships among many other issues. This book entirely focuses on the foreign engagements taken by leaders on behalf of the entire nation.

This book follows a systematic approach in explaining the way and the reasons why the decisions concerning the foreign policy become very important to a nation. The authors make a consideration of the major environmental, domestic, international and psychological factors that shape the FPDM. The objective for foreign policy observers is pointed out as the ability to comprehend the way and the importance of the decisions being made. These tasks have been accomplished through the explanation of models, concepts and theories of FPDM along with illustrations, examples, and case studies touching on various nations towards others. Many brief examples have been put together based on concepts, decision principles, and theories.

Most importantly, there are longer case studies that have been provided that offer clear detail on the dynamics and processes of decision making. The cases highlighted here come from different societies, polities, and cultures namely in Cuba, Iraq, Israel, the United States, the Palestinian Authority, Iceland, Argentina, New Zealand, and other nations. The cases under study are the relations between Cuba and the United States from 1954-1967, the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel realized at Camp David in 2000, the decision by New Zealand to avert nuclear visits and, therefore, end the defense alliance with America, the war of the Falkland Islands between Argentina and England, and the decisions that were made by the United States not to attack Iraq in 1991, and later on those made to attack Iraq in 2003.

Part One

The book carries a broad introduction on the FPDM outline. The approach has been thoroughly explained, the logic behind the foreign policy study from a perspective of decision making, and the introduction of a number of fundamental concepts needed to create a firm ground for the book. The rest of the book provides models and theories and offers important examples. The authors have tackled this topic from different points taking into account the various decisions: sequential, one-shot, group, or interactive. Other factors considered are the foreign policy analysis level in the decision making process either by a group or individual coalition, the dynamics and processes that amount to the decisions arrived at, errors and biases, and most certainly, the decision making models (rational actor, cybernetic, bureaucratic politics, organizational politics, poliheuristic theory, and prospect theory). Minz and DeRouen evaluate the foreign policy determinants in decisions (the environment of making decisions, psychological issues, domestic influences, and international factors).

The psychological factors host shaping decisions are also assessed. These include belief systems and images, analogies, emotions, the leaders’ personality, styles of leadership, misrepresentations and miscalculations, and the surrounding factors, such as ambiguity, risk, time constraints, and stress. Also, the authors consider the effect of both domestic and international factors, such as the arms race, strategic surprise, deterrence, the regime kind of the adversary, conditions in the economy, opinion of the public and electoral cycles regarding decision making in the foreign policy. The book concludes with a United States case study of the 2003 foreign policy of invading Iraq. The following case is analyzed through five different models of decision making.

Foreign Policy Decision Making (FPDM)

According to Minz and DeRouen (p.3), FPDM constitutes the choices of coalitions, individuals and groups that make affecting the actions of a nation on the international realm. The decisions of the foreign policy have been characterized with big stakes, a lot of uncertainty, and enormous risk. International affairs deal with national actions in individual states and leaders in those states. The book reveals the decisions that foreshadow the events and actions taken up by the nation. FPDM is highlighted as a very imperative avenue of research based on how decision making is carried out as it shapes the ultimate choice. This means, an actor may arrive at various outcomes based on the process of making a decision. Additionally, significant cognitive shortfalls usually distort the processing of information. Some of the decisions are carefully calculated although others are intuitive.

The process of world politics has largely been attributed to the decisions made by the national leaders. The uncertainty realized in the foreign policy formulation has been associated with intentions, motives, beliefs, or calculations by the opponents. The authors consider that it is important to understand the manner in which decisions are formed in order to be able to predict outcomes on the global arena. The authors compare many foreign policy decisions to a chess game where there moves and countermoves. Such actions can be related to the Bush-Saddam decisions taken prior to the First Gulf War and the interactive format of the U.S decisions, and the European powers vis-à-vis the nuclear program of Iran or when looking at the negotiations between Syria and Israel, and the Palestine and Israel authority. The decisions made have been influenced by initial moves just like in a game of chess. The key components of FPDM have been listed as:

  1. The identification of the decision problem;
  2. Looking out for alternatives;
  3. Making a choice of the alternatives and; and
  4. Executing the finally chosen alternative.

The authors further explain the importance of studying foreign policy decision making. The history of FPDM has been carefully highlighted to give a basis for its significance. Minz and DeRouen mention the work of Richard C. Snyder, Henry W. Bruck, and Burtin Sapin in 1954 on Decision-Making as an Approach to the Study of International Politics where insights into government FPDM determinants were tackled. The focus was on the process of making a decision through the merging aspects of organizational communication, motivation, and behavior. The authors identify gaps in the 1954 publication where the analysis did not establish enough momentum to take the discipline into the main international relations. According to Minz and DeRouen (p.5), the belief is that a foreign policy decision analysis can unveil cognitive procedures that lead the way to the making of foreign policy and instill into leaders’ minds making decisions and come up with insights concerning leadership styles and personalities that cannot be shown through a particular approach to the analysis of the foreign policy.

Part Two

The following section deals with the various kinds of decisions, the degrees of analysis in foreign policy matters, and the main characteristics of the environment in making such decisions like accountability, risk, information issues, time constraints, uncertainty among other conditions generally past the impact of the decision unit. The information on the decisions rules and search patterns has also been covered. The types of decisions have been listed as: 1) one-shot or single decision, which has been said to be rare in the global realm since most of the decisions form part of a series of other decisions made in an interactive way through other actors. However, this kind of decision has been realized with the United State’s 1991 and 2003 invasions on Iraq. Secondly, the United States decision to offer aid in military affairs to France in 1954 in Dien Bien Phu has also been listed as a single decision.

Another type of decision as highlighted in the book is 2) strategic, interactive decisions defined as involving about two players making decisions that affect and at the same time are affected by the decisions of the other player. The example of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian National Authority president, fits in well in this category. This leader was supposed to make a decision on whether to counter, accept or turn down the offer given in 2000 by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, at Camp David. The classic prisoner’s dilemma offers a perfect example of a one-shot interactive decision. In this situation, two suspects are apprehended on the notion of conducting a lousy crime. The suspects are separately interrogated. They all have one option over time. They can agree to a plea bargain provided through the police. This agreement would imply giving testimony against the other party or there is a possibility to refuse the offer and remain loyal to the partner.

The authors further claim that it is very unrealistic to assume a single decision in an effort of explaining foreign policy actions. For this reason, there is another type of decision highlighted, known as 3) sequential decision making. In this case, there is always a series of decisions that are interrelated like either to attack or occupy Iraq, to increase or reduce the levels of the troops, to remain or withdraw when the operation would be finalized. The making of foreign policy comprises many choices taking into account a series of interactive decisions. For instance, the arms race that was realized between the Soviet Union and the United States or the Warsaw Treaty organization (WTO) and the NATO in times of the Cold War, or even Israel and the Arab neighborhood, or Pakistan and India, or South and North Korea were all a kind of sequential-interactive procedure of decisions through at least two nations responding to the decisions made by the other on disarmament or armament.

Foreign policy decisions are also made through 4) groups. The dynamics of groups like the Cuban Missile Crisis can be ad hoc amalgamation of people, bureaucratic coalitions, or agencies. There can be complexities in group decision making since the members of the group could have disparate interests, preferences and agendas for ordering structures together with policy choices. Therefore, group procedures usually take into account bargaining amongst members of groups. There is a significant difference between a group and individual decision making dynamics. These group decisions could be decisions of UN Security Council members, presidential advisory groups, or the United States National Security Council.

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Part Three

The third part provides a series of cognitive biases and the manner in which they affect the process of making decisions in foreign policy. The authors make an introduction to wishful thinking bias, the “shooting from the hip” bias, the “preference over preference” bias, the “poliheuristic bias,” along with other biases, and such errors that are realized in decision making. Discussions affecting decision making of group dynamics commonly known as polythink and groupthink or group polarization effect are represented in the following chapter, as well.

One of the highlighted problems that are linked to leaders in crises is their propensity to be influenced through biases and errors that come with the making of decisions due to cognitive limitations. In reality, decision making for many multifaceted foreign policy decisions occurs under the information processing constraints. Biases usually amount to misperception. Leaders tend to see the universe in ways that are subconsciously sieved through previous experiences and beliefs. The authors incline to secondary sources with the opinion that, the makers of decisions usually do not see the world accurately and, therefore, people understand and point out the sources of misinterpretation.

The misperception of Saddam Hussein after the invasion of Iraq on Kuwait in the year 1990 is listed as an example under this sub-topic. Certainly, Saddam saw that the USA would not respond very strongly to the Kuwait invasion, a view given on a meeting with the United States Ambassador. The former U.S ambassador, Glaspie, sent signals to Saddam that America would not have anything to do with the border tension between Iraq and Kuwait. Saddam also could have anticipated that the Arabic nations would come together and support him as he endeavored to make the Israel nation a party to the uprising. The leader could have seen well that other nations were focused on actions and events in Europe since the Cold War was coming to an end, and there was a collapse of the Soviet Union. The Hamas leadership in 2008 miscalculated when it did not succeed in anticipating the forceful response of Israel to the continued rocket attacks by the Hamas on the nation. The Hamas regime did not expect Israel to respond before an election was conducted. This wishful thinking cost it a lot since the bias that the people of Israel would not attempt to come in Hamas-controlled Gaza was a huge set back to any war efforts.

The case study of the United States attack on Iraq is also given as a perfect example that was justified by Bush administration. It was founded on the intelligence reports that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that threatened the security of the United States and that of the Middle East. A CIA report of 2004, however, highlighted that the Bush administration did not focus well on a prewar U.S. intelligence forecast that the tribal and ethnic turmoil in Iraq would be realized from the invasion. The report pointed out that the administration was much worried concerning the weapons program of Iraq and reiterated that the policy society was receptive to the technical intelligence on the weapons where the evaluation was not right, but seemingly did not pay enough attention to the intelligence on political and cultural matters, like post-Saddam Iraq where the evaluation was right. The Bush administration was rebuked for not being considerate to the prewar intelligence that gave a prediction. 

Part Four

Part 4 makes an introduction to the FPDM rational actor model. The expected utility model of war is analyzed along with some game-theoretic models, such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, the Chicken Game, and the Tit-for-Tat strategy. The rational actor model is stated as a linchpin of FPDM. The model has been seen as the most recommended one for the universal theory of social and political behavior whose intuitively plausible and simple assumptions have the promise of bringing together different subfields of political science. While many scholars have largely criticized the model, Minz and DeRouen (p.57) say that it has received support from many other scholars. The model can be given over according to its tenets or main assumptions downplayed, it is important to understand it as proposed in this book.

A logical strategy largely is applied in foreign policy analysis in the modern world today, and the expected utility theory (EUT) was developed from it in the 1940s. The strategy has originated from microeconomics where the maker of the decision is taken to be in a position to rank preferences based on the level of satisfaction of attaining these objectives and goals. The rational actor is expected to be in a position to point out choices and the consequences and to make a choice from the given options in an endeavor to increase satisfaction. In this setting, the authors state that the rational economic decision is supposed to be made in a position of accessing a set of goals and objectives. Rationality has been defined as a consistent choice of maximizing value with particular constraints. The rational decision maker chooses out of the alternatives that offer the most preferred result. The brevity of the definition deprives off the model strength.

The rational actor model is parsimonious. It means that a few rather direct assumptions put together can give an explanation of a wide scope of foreign policy actions and decisions. The model is basically important in explaining the economic behavior. In rationality, the actors are assumed to use purposive action agitated through goal-oriented behavior and not merely through habits or expectations of the society. The decision maker should be in a position to point out an objective and carry on with the purpose of attaining it.

Additionally, the actors show consistent preferences as they are evident in the capability to rank the preferences in an order that is transitive. Transitivity, as it is explained in the book, implies that, if result 1 has a preference for result 2, and 2 is preferred to another outcome 3, then 1 remains to be most preferred to 3. A case is provided as an illustration where diplomacy is embraced more than the use of coercion. Then, it follows that diplomacy is advocated for than coercion. Invariance implies that the preference of the decision maker remains firm in the face of different ways of information presented. There are chances that information will be framed in a specific manner. The ordering of preference is the trademark of intentional behavior so that when put together, these first initial assumptions imply that the actors should know what they need and be in a position to rank the results in a manner that is relative to the objective. This means that a person needs to know his/ her destination if there is any hope of getting there. Ultimately, utility maximization implies that the actors will have a selection of the alternative that offers the greatest value of net advantages.

Part Five

As a development of the fourth part, Part 5 looks at the alternative models to the rational actor model. A summary of the main models and concepts like bureaucratic politics, cybernetic theory, organizational politics, the poliheuristic decision theory, and prospect theory are carefully analyzed. Such models offer competing descriptions of the decision making process. An application of the models to the decision not to attack Iraq in 1991 is also made. Here, the coverage and content are based on how the mechanics of the options are made from a number of alternatives through various choices, making use of disparate models of decision making. Applied Decision Analysis is also introduced. This procedure is noted as having an aim of unveiling the decision making patterns of the leaders. There is an appendix provided with very creative exercises that can be applied in the proper comprehension of FPDM from different perspectives.

The rational and cognitive schools provide various understanding of making decisions. The book draws from schools of thought and research on anthropological-like definitions to bring out the difference between cognitive and rational decision makers. Cognitive models have been distinguished based on the assumption that decision makers have limited capabilities of processing information rather than objectively looking out for all information in order to obtain the best result. Decision makers will make a choice that is widely acceptable. This also relates to the satisfying behavior dealt with in the second part of the book. While the rational school focuses on the behavior of maximizing and the relationship between benefits and costs, the cognitive school looks into the manner in which human beings learn and make decisions in a bounded rational environment. Additionally, the cognitive school considers that people are selective in the information they utilize in decision making, applying incomplete processes of search, and are more certainly going to choose a satisfactory alternative rather than an optimal one.

Humans are considered procedurally rational. Bounded rationality is said to be procedural since it is behavior that is adaptive inside the constraints imposed both through the decision maker’s capacity and the external condition. In contrast, classical rationality can be substantive owing to the fact that it relates to the kind of result more than the process substance leading to a result. Bounded rationality has still been logical although the psychological and biological limits faced by human beings make it more certainly that cognitive shortcuts would be used and quite possibly not get the optimal result. When decision makers do not take into account all information exhaustively, the issue raised is how the human mind makes sense of the complex world. The argument made is that, classical rationality utilized in slowing-moving scenarios where the actor has one goal of operation, but in more multifaceted situations, rational descriptions are not enough. High information costs the constrain actors to asses choices and take on one based on satisfying.

There is minimized uncertainty through information feedback loops in the cybernetic decision making model proposed by the authors. The cybernetic strategy postulates that decision makers do not have the basic cognitive knowledge required to conduct the rational model at times of handling difficult problems. The cybernetic model excludes the need to find the optimal procedures and choices based on preferred outcomes through the elimination of choices and disregarding the surrounding and the variety concerns. The maker of the decision realizes that the decision is simple and may not need further elaboration. There is absolutely no point of dwelling on the looking out for the chance of all possible results since there is no anticipated outcome variety. This model involves the filtering out of extraneous information and, thus, emphasizes on a narrow scope of incoming information. The cybernetic approach takes on the outlook of a programmed response. The rational pattern is considered powerful; although, limitations are notable. Some actions can hardly be accounted for with logical explanations. One such an example highlighted in the book is the Japanese attack targeting Pearl Harbor and the advances of Egypt towards Israel in 1967, which apparently defy rationality.

Even though this is a firm support in social science studies, the rational model has been the focus of revisionism and criticisms. The bounded rationality along with cybernetic strategies highlighted in the book show a rather excessive demand on the human brain that is made by the rational decision paradigm. The bureaucratic and organizational politics patterns, with their focus on political struggle, as well as SOPs and building coalitions show that the rational paradigm is not the last resort in FPDM. The Poliheuristic theory puts together elements of the rational paradigm and the cognitive school through the addition of a preliminary step to the process of rationality. Psychological factors are widely ignored in the rational paradigm as discussed in the following chapter of the book.

Part Six

The focus in Part 6 is made on psychological factors that shape foreign policy decisions. Minz and DeRouen state that decisions are affected by images, belief systems, cognitive consistency, emotions, beliefs, historical analogies, leadership style, and personality. Decisions at the highest government ranks are normally made through small groups or individuals in power. Psychological factors are stated as potentially influential on the decisions performed by the said units. The impact is widely felt when the process of making decision takes place in times of crisis, when the government is authoritarian, or the nation has just gained independence or is undergoing a change in regime.

The decision by Kennedy in the Cuban Missile crisis is identified as having been influenced fundamentally through the relativity of a number of EXCOM members. The dominance of Winston Churchill as a maker of decision in the WWII has also been identified as another example of decision making in the crisis times.

When the regime is autocratic, the individual characteristic of the leader can be significant. Therefore, the individual idiosyncrasies of autocratic leaders in power like Fidel Castro in Cuba, China’s Mao Tse-tung, North Korea’s Jong-il, Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, Syria’s Hafez al-Assad or Iraq’s Saddam Hussein become significant. When a nation is not stable, small decision individuals or units can be significant. When a country is newly sovereign and institutions are still in the process of developing, the leaders can be very dominant. India’s Mahatma Gandhi, Turkey’s Mustafa Atat¨urk, and Yugoslavia’s Joseph Tito are perfect examples enlisted in the book. Minz and DeRouen propose that leaders should collect and process the available information to get a suitable judgment or decision. Such a judgment matches with both the circumstances and the facts politically and strategically. These psychological factors listed in the book affect the small units of making decisions.

Part Seven

In Part 7, the international and domestic determinants of FPDM are considered as part of an important policy establishment and implementation. The issues covered include: strategic surprise, public opinion, arms races, alliances, deterrence, regime kind of adversary, and electoral cycles. The authors still focus on the decisions concerning the utilization of non-military foreign policy tools, such as economic aid, negotiation, mediation, and trade.

Minz and DeRouen reiterate that the decisions in foreign policy are essentially formulated in a strategic meeting. Therefore, behavior of enemies and friends affect foreign policy decisions in an interactive sequential platform. For instance, the United States foreign policy in the time of the Georgian crises in the 2008 summer is enlisted as having been implemented in reaction to the actions of Russia in Georgia. The United States policy regarding missile defense in Europe influences the decisions by Russia as it is the case in Czech, Polish and other decisions of leaders in Europe. The domestic politics, public opinion, and economic factors have also been enlisted as some of the most significant domestic factors that largely shape foreign policy decision making processes and procedures.

Part Eight

Part 8 of the book covers the marketing and framing of decisions. This puts together politics elements as units of decision moves to a position of marketing and selling decisions to the public masses. The media effects and how they impact foreign policy decision making are also highlighted. Minz and DeRouen assert that, to get public support for their security and foreign policies, the state leaders are supposed to market their policies to the citizens of the land, the opposition group and the allies, as well as constituencies and adversaries.

The authors talk of various framing and marketing tactics that the leaders apply to enhance their foreign policies. The marketing discipline basically deals with products and services marketing to the esteemed consumers along with customer relationship management (CRM). Political marketing looks at the marketing of political platforms, political candidates, as well as political parties.

International relations marketing takes into account the marketing of national security and foreign policies involving war and peace marketing. As noted in the previous sections, psychological factors come into play to the understanding of decision making in foreign policy. These psychological theories are stated to draw people’s attention to the significant role of marketing and framing foreign policy decisions. This section of the book shows that the framing and marketing exist and count in foreign policy formulation. Leaders sell the decisions they have to the public in order to promote their standing. They typically seek to make decisions that gain support more than they would be opposed to. The authors outline framing and marketing strategies that makers of decision apply to support their foreign policy alternatives. Leaders are not absolutely at the mercy of the opinion in the public. In reality, savvy marketing can gain them support that would not have been realized otherwise.

Part Nine

Part 9 of the book makes a conclusion with a general overview and summary of the preceding chapters. This section offers the United States decision on attacking Iraq in the year 2003. The authors have provided an appendix with a decision-making exercise that can be applied as a tool of research for scholars. The belief is that such policy scenarios can be useful in stimulating decision-making processes. The problems of foreign policy are inherently multifaceted as drawn from the entire book. Therefore, formulating foreign policy is complex due to the wide scope of ramifications. The foreign policy decisions are made through one leader like the president, a group like the congress, or even a coalition in a democratic parliament.

The types of decisions are some of the main points as highlighted and addressed in the book. They include one-shot single decisions, interactive decisions, sequential decisions, and sequential-interactive decisions. The foreign policy decisions are affected by the leaders’ personality, the international and domestic factors, the foreign policy environment, and the dynamics of decisions. Decisions influence subsequent ones and usually lay down a path of anticipated decisions. Foreign policy decisions are most importantly made in a setting that is interactive including an opponent, a friend or even both and are realized under dynamic situations where the new information goes into the decision condition during the crisis. The foreign policy surrounding is mainly characterized through a high degree of uncertainty, incomplete information, and considerable risk, and thus, decisions usually have to be realized in unfamiliar settings. These are the issues among many more expounded elements that are addressed in the book covering foreign policy decision making.


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