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date: 23 January 2021

Foreign Policy Analysis and Rational Choice Modelslocked

  • Bruce Bueno de MesquitaBruce Bueno de MesquitaDepartment of Politics, New York University


Since the end of World War II, foreign policy thinking has been dominated by a realist (or neorealist) perspective in which states are taken as the relevant unit of analysis. The focus on states as the central actors in international politics leads to the view that what happens within states is of little consequence for understanding what happens between states. However, state-centric, unitary rational actor theories fail to explain perhaps the most significant empirical discovery in international relations over the past several decades. That is the widely accepted observation that democracies tend not to fight wars with one another even though they are not especially reluctant to fight with autocratic regimes. By looking within states at their domestic politics and institutionally induced behavior, the political economy perspective provides explanations of the democratic peace and associated empirical regularities while offering a cautionary tale for those who leap too easily to the inference that since pairs of democracies tend to interact peacefully; therefore it follows that they have strong normative incentives to promote democratic reform around the world. Rational choices approaches have also helped elucidate new insights that contribute to our understanding of foreign policy. Some of these new insights and the tools of analysis from which they are derived have significantly contributed to the actual decision making process.

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