Political Science 2231E Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Cognitive Dissonance, National Myth, Cascina Increa

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Lecture 3: Foreign Policy Decision-Makin and Instruments of Foreign Policy
What is the rational actor model? (Or Unitary model/rational choice model)
- Actors (eg. Leaders/governments) seek to maximize their goals
- Their goals are clear to them and relatively clear to others (eg. Increase
power/prosperity/territory/votes for leader/nation)
- “The right to our Manifest Destiny”
o John L. O‟Sullivan
- Foreign policy consists of rational calculations in response to other side‟s moves
- Decisions are based on rational calculations of alternatives
- Objective is to maximize utility (not to minimize loss)
- Analysts must ask themselves, “What would I do if I were the other state?”
- War game exercises are simple, cheap, fun…inaccurate and misleading?
o Cold war examples
o Summit preparation requires understanding objectives and rational choices. Here the
respective leaders Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev meet in 1985
- Games are played using rational calculations constantly. Cpl. Chris Lynch of the North Bay
NORAD center, places the first in the weapon director technician category of Top Scope, a
NORAD competition which featured 14 of the world‟s best AWACS and air control teams
- Do leaders calculate rationally?
o What is rational for one country/leader may not be rational for another in similar
o Eg. US assumed increases in bombing of N. Vietnam would lead to surrender instead it
increased resolve
- If rationality is not entirely predictable, then what characterizes and motivated decision makers?
o Historians and biographers tend to focus on idiosyncratic variables
o Eg. Personality characteristics, like Diefenbaker‟s hatred of Kennedy, Sadar‟s
experiences in prison
o Personality type can be important
o Aberrant personalities can be key factor
Mental disturbance (Begin), paranoia (Stalin)
Journalists often focus on personality
o All types of social scientists focus on other factors (eg. Need for power and desire to
dominate others)
o Need for affiliation
Clinton or Diefenbaker‟s indecisiveness due to need to have approval
o Idealism
Desire to make the world a better place, change and progress
o Realism
Perceived need to retain traditional values and institutions
How can Misperceptions affect policy choice?
- Rational choices are impeded by misperceptions and miscalculations
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- Accurate perceptions and decision-making can be skewed by
o Images (eg. Of the enemy)
o Belief systems (eg. About nuclear deterrence)
o National myths (eg. About homeland)
o Traditions (eg. Traditional allies)
- A leaders expectations usually (pre)determine his or her perception
o Eg. Expectations that communists subversion underlies revolution, that Canadians
resources are „ours‟
- The desire for cognitive consistency can prompt leaders to overlook or discount incoming
o Eg. Trudeau though Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 was due to insecurity, not
- Tendency to project one‟s own feelings/beliefs onto an external object
o Eg. US intervention is seen as stabilizing by Canadians while similar Soviet action is
seen as destabilizing. Yeltsin is seen to believe in freedom and democracy yet he is
actually authoritarian, like Putin
- Leaders can reduce misperception and miscalculation by:
o Hiring critics
o Watchdogs
o Widening information channels
o Soliciting alternative opinions
o Consulting with opponents and other national leaders
o Firing bureaucrats intent upon retaining Standard Operating Procedures
How important is the bureaucracy to foreign policy-making
- The executive branch of government in most states is made up of thousands of bureaucrats
- Bureaucrats collect the relevant info; write briefing notes; make decisions on policy; decide on
issues; possess a long term institutional memory, implement policy, assess policy changes,
recommend changes
- Senior/junior bureaucrats can delay decisions, procrastinate, misunderstand instructions,
sabotage, follow SOPs
- The size of the bureaucracy can impede decision making
o Eg. Decisions must be overviewed by many depts., multilateral organizations
- Decisions-making by committee can lack creativity and decisiveness
o Eg. Some leaders will seek independent advice due to distrust of bureaucrats, committees
settle for lowest common denominator
- Groupthink (Irving Janis) can impede independent, critical thinking resulting in irrational,
dehumanizing actions (eg. ExComm?, cabinet decision making, authoritarian governments)
- Groupthink is characterized by the illusion of group invulnerability, unquestioned belief about
own groups morality, stereotyping of the enemy, self-censorship, silence, high espits de corps
- GT can be combatted by purposefully inviting in critics (eg. George Ball), women (eg. Judy
LaMarsh, Barbara McDougall?), journalists…
- Lobbying is special interest groups can influence foreign policy (eg. Friendships, paid retired
lobbyists to be the first/last person to offer advice, show many letters from constituents etc…)
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