A growing body of the scholarship within security studies looks at the influence that crisis has on decision making. Critical areas of focus provide insight into the political leader as a key decision maker, groups as decision-making bodies, and the impact of organizational culture and bureaucratic politics. With crises becoming more complex, the security of states can be impacted in a variety of ways. Under extreme stress, a leader can succumb to flawed decision making as a result of information-processing errors and cognitive biases which skew the way that information is assessed. These decisions can lead to policies and responses to security situations that may impact one or more political entities. When a looming threat is no longer imminent, attention turns inward and investigations into threat preparedness and decision-making processes are carried out. While the stress from the threat itself subsides, leaders can still feel the effects of extreme stress as inquiries into decision making can lead to questions of accountability and blame placement. A look at crisis decision making also requires a foundational understanding for how someone’s leadership style will impact the way that information is sought and how advisory member guidance will be utilized. As leaders surround themselves with supporting advisory groups, it is important to consider the overall impact that advisory groups play during times of crisis, as well as the functionality of advisory group decision making. Broadening this out to the organizational level, when assessing the impact that crisis has on decision making, it is essential to also consider how organizational dynamics and culture might come to be impacted by crises as well.
Nicole K. Drumhiller
Alex Mintz and Amnon Sofrin
Key theories of foreign policymaking include: the rational actor model, prospect theory, poliheuristic theory, cybernetic theory, bureaucratic politics, and organizational politics; and, at the group level, groupthink, polythink, and con-div. These theories are based on unique decision rules, including maximizing, satisficing, elimination by aspect, lexicographic, etc. A new, two-group model of foreign policy decision-making includes a decision design group and a decision approval group.
Cognitive theory encompasses mental activities such as the observation of different stimuli in an environment; the memorization and recall of information; pattern recognition and problem representation; and complex activities like social judgments, analytic reasoning, and learning. Cognitive psychology also highlights the constraints that prevent individuals from acting as utility-maximizing, fully rational decision-makers. These constraints lead people to rely on a regularly occurring set of cognitive mechanisms to simplify the decision-making process. Scholars of foreign policy have drawn from several prominent areas of cognitive psychology to inform their research. One such area looks at the beliefs and belief systems that are the building blocks for most judgments. Researchers have also examined how actors use cognitive biases and heuristics to cope with uncertainty, which is abundant in foreign policy settings. An important set of cognitive mechanisms examined in Foreign Policy Analysis (FPA) relates to judgments about policy risks and costs. Factors that facilitate and inhibit learning are crucial for understanding the conditions under which such judgments may improve over time. No cognitive process operates in a vacuum; instead these processes are moderated by an individual’s group context and emotions. There are several challenges in applying cognitive theory to FPA. Such theories are biased toward populations that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. They are usually first tested using controlled experiments that measure group-level differences; whereas FPA scholars are often interested in the cognitive processes of individual leaders operating in chaotic environments. Individual-level psychological mechanisms may augment or offset one another, as well as interact with variables at the governmental, societal, and international levels of analysis in unpredictable ways. In light of these challenges, FPA scholars who employ cognitive psychology may wish to conceive of their enterprise as a historical science rather than a predictive one.
Advisory groups and their dynamics play a critical role in crisis management. If they function well and complement the leadership styles of political leaders, advisory groups can provide broad information search, diverse advice and perspectives, and reinforce a leader’s own strengths. They can surround an inexperienced leader with advisors possessing policy expertise or experience in an issue area. On the other hand, advisory groups can also easily fall into more dysfunctional patterns where they do not compensate for a leader’s weaknesses, fail to provide varied perspectives or alternative views, and engage in limited information gathering. Advisory groups can help seal an administration into an “alternative reality bubble” during crises, resulting in policy decisions being made based upon faulty perceptions instead of realities. How should we seek to understand advisory groups and crises? The first cut should involve the consumer of the advisory group’s inputs themselves, the leader. Advisory groups almost always serve at the pleasure of the leader, not themselves, and therefore the leaders will play a major role in determining their influence, how the groups will function, and their importance during crisis decision making. Important variables such as leadership style, sensitivity to context and need for information on the part of leaders, how much control they require over the policy process, and how their prior experience or expertise leads them to rely more or less upon advisors must be examined. The second focus should be upon the advisory groups themselves, their internal dynamics and reactions to stress, how decision rules and policy formulation occurs, and how group pathologies can undermine their crisis performance. Variables such as group malfunctions resulting from stress and the needs for cohesion during crisis (like groupthink) or the splintering of group consensus to warring factions that undercut cohesion (like polythink) must be considered. The stage of development an advisory group is in (i.e., newgroup versus established), the stage of the policymaking process involved (i.e., deliberative versus implemental), how sequential decision-making processes function, the composition of the group members (i.e., experts versus novices), the type of crisis the group faces, and the bureau-political dynamics involved all impact crisis management.