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date: 29 November 2020

Foreign Policy Decision Makinglocked

  • James M. GoldgeierJames M. GoldgeierSchool of International Service, American University

Summary

Decision makers, acting singly or in groups, influence the field of international relations by shaping the interactions among nations. It is therefore important to understand how those decision makers are likely to behave. Some scholars have developed elegant formal theories of decision making to demonstrate the utility of rational choice approaches in the study of international relations, while others have chosen to explain the patterns of bias that exist when leaders face the difficult task of making decisions and formulating policy. Among them are Herbert Simon, who introduced “bounded rationality” to allow leaders to short-circuit the decision process, and Elizabeth Kier, who has shown how organizational cultures shaped the development of military doctrine during the interwar period. The literature on foreign policy decision making during the Cold War looked inside the black box to generate analyses of bureaucratic politics and individual mindsets. Because decision making involves consensus seeking among groups, leaders will often avoid making choices so that they will not antagonize key members of the bureaucracy. Scholars have also investigated the role of “policy entrepreneurs” in the decision-making process, bringing individual agents into organizational, diplomatic and political processes. Over time, the field of policy decision making has evolved to help us understand not only why leaders often calculate so poorly but even more importantly, why systematic patterns of behavior are more or less likely under certain conditions.

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