Making Foreign Policy.docx

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Political Science
Wiafe- Amaoko

Making Foreign Policy (Models of Decision Making) The foreign policy process is a process of decision making. Decision making is a steering process in which adjustments are made as a result of feedback from the outside world. Decisions are carried out by actions taken to change the world, and then information from the world is monitored to evaluate the effects of these actions. A common starting point for studying the decision-making process is the rational model. FIGURE 4.1 Decisions Making as Steering READ!!! An alternative to the rational model of decision making is the organizational process model. Foreign policy decision makers generally skip the labour-intensive process of identifying goals and alternative actions, relying instead for most decisions on standardized responses or standard operating procedures. These low-level decisions may not even reflect the high-level policies adopted by top leaders, but rather have a life of their own. The organizational process model implies that much of foreign policy results from “management by muddling through.” Another alternative to the rational model is the government bargaining (or bureaucratic politics) model, in which foreign policy decisions result from the bargaining process among various government agencies with somewhat divergent interests in the outcome. Individual Decision Makers Every international event is the result, intended or unintended, of decisions made by individuals. IR does not just happen. Similarly, the decisions of individual citizens, although they may not seem important when taken one by one, create the great forces of world history. individual decision making revolves around the question of rationality. Individual rationality is not equivalent to state rationality: states might filter individuals’ irrational decisions so as to arrive at rational choices, or states might distort individually rational decisions and end up with irrational state choices. But realists tend to assume that both states and individuals are rational and that the goals or interests of states correlate with those of leaders. The most simplified rational-actor models assume that interests are the same from one actor to another. If this were so, individuals could be substituted for each other in various roles without changing history very much. This assumption is at best a great oversimplification; individual decisions reflect the values and beliefs of the decision maker. Individual decision makers not only have differing values and beliefs, but also have unique personalities—their personal experiences, intellectual capabilities, and personal styles of making decisions. Beyond individual idiosyncrasies in goals or decision-making processes, individual decision making diverges from the rational model in at least three systematic ways. First, decision makers suffer from misperceptions and selective perceptions when they compile information on the likely consequences of their choices. Information screens are subconscious filters through which people put the information coming in about the world around them. Misperceptions can affect the implementation of policy by low-level officials as well as its formulation by high-level officials. Second, the rationality of individual cost-benefit calculations is undermined by emotions that decision makers feel while thinking about the consequences of their actions—an effect referred to as affective bias. the decision making process is bound to be influenced by strong feelings held about the person or state toward which a decision is directed. Third, cognitive biases are systematic distortions of rational calculations based not on emotional feelings but simply on the limitations of the human brain in making choices. The most important of these distortions seems to be the attempt to produce cognitive balance—or to reduce cognitive dissonance. One implication of cognitive balance is that decision makers place greater value on goals that they have put much effort into achieving—the justification of effort. This is especially true in a democracy, in which politicians must face their citizens’ judgment at the polls and so do not want to admit failures. Decision makers also achieve cognitive balance through wishful thinking—an overestimate of the probability of a desired outcome. A variation of wishful thinking is to assume that an event with a low probability of occurring will not occur. This could be a dangerous way to think about catastrophic events such as accidental nuclear war or a terrorist attack. Cognitive balance often leads decision makers to maintain a hardened image of an enemy and to interpret all of the enemy’s actions in a negative light. A mirror image refers to two sides in a conflict maintaining very similar enemy images of each other A decision maker may also experience psychological projection of his or her own feelings onto another actor. Another form of cognitive bias, related to cognitive balance, is the use of historical analogies to structure one’s thinking about a decision. useful or quite misleading, depending on whether the analogy is appropriate. In particular, decision makers often assume that a solution that worked in the past will work again—without fully examining how similar the situations really are. All of these psychological processes—misperception, affective biases, and cognitive biases— interfere with the rational assessment of costs and benefits in making a decision.11 Two specific modifications to the rational model of decision making have been proposed to accommodate psychological realities. First, the model of bounded rationality takes into account the costs of seeking and processing information. Nobody thinks about every single possible course of action when making a decision. Instead of optimizing, or picking the very best option, people usually work on the problem until they come up with a “good enough” option that meets some minimal criteria; this is called satisficing, or finding a satisfactory solution. Second, prospect theory provides an alternative explanation of decisions made under risk or uncertainty. decision makers go through two phases. In the editing phase, they frame the options available and the probabilities of various outcomes associated with each option. Then, in the evaluation phase, they assess the options and choose one. Prospect theory holds that evaluations take place by comparison with a reference point, which is often the status quo but might be some past or expected situation. Individual decision making thus follows an imperfect and partial kind of rationality at best. The rational model is only a simplification at best and must be supplemented by an understanding of individual psychological processes that affect decision making. Group Psychology Groupthink refers to the tendency for groups to reach decisions without accurately assessing their consequences, because individual members tend to go along with ideas they think the others support. Unlike individuals, groups tend to be overly optimistic about the chances of success and are thus more willing to take risks. Also, because the group diffuses responsibility from individuals, nobody feels accountable for actions. The U.S. war in Iraq may also provide cautionary examples to future generations about the risks of misinformation, misperception, wishful thinking, and groupthink in managing a major foreign policy initiative. The structure of a decision-making process—the rules for who is involved in making the decision, how voting is conducted, and so forth—can affect the outcome, especially when no single alternative appeals to a majority of participants. techniques for manipulating decision-making processes to favor outcomes they prefer. A common technique is to control a group’s formal decision rules. Probably most important is the ability to control the agenda and thereby structure the terms of debate. State leaders
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