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Judgment as the Imagination of Futures: Practical Rationality in Decisions on Complex Issues  

Michael J. Mazarr

The field of judgment and decision making has seen an explosion of research and analyses since the 1990s, notably in five closely related fields: Rational choice and its variants, the concept of intuition, “dual process” theories, the “heuristics and biases” literature, and the concept of “naturalistic” decision making. Yet none of these theories captures—by design or because of the limits of the approach—the actual mechanism by which emergent judgment occurs on complex decisions. Such decisions are non-optimizable and guided by multiple and often conflicting objectives and values; their outcomes will flow from the nonlinear interaction of many variables whose causal relationships are poorly understood. As a result, critical assumptions of many classical decision making models cannot be met in such situations, and the default approach relies not so much on calculative decision making as on instinctive judgment. This term implies a mechanism that is less calculative and consequentialist that it is imaginative, creative, and unconscious. Emergent, largely intuitive judgment is the only mechanism appropriate to such complex, nonlinear situations in which both an objective maximization of utilities and an accurate assessment of likely consequences are impossible. The concept of judgment broadly defined, as a form of unconscious, emergent, and imaginative interpretation of facts and events, offers the best model for how decision makers approach non-optimizable situations.

Article

The Theoretical and Empirical Approaches to Uncertainty and Conflict in International Relations  

Muhammet A. Bas and Robert Schub

Uncertainty is pervasive in international politics. This uncertainty can have many sources. Each source has different origins and implications for the likelihood of conflict. Existing theories focus on three sources: (1) uncertainty due to asymmetric information about adversary traits that affect war payoffs, (2) uncertainty about adversary intentions, and (3) fundamental uncertainty about conflict-relevant processes. Scholarship details the implications of each type of uncertainty for war and peace as well as the prospects for reducing the uncertainty. While theoretical work is quite rich, empirical studies generally lag behind due to measurement challenges and difficulties in specifying clear, testable implications. Nonetheless, using novel proxies for different forms of uncertainty has generated notable progress.

Article

Problem Definition and the Policy Process: Wicked Problems  

Brian W. Head

In the early 1970s, Rittel and Webber asserted that conventional approaches to scientific analysis and rational planning were inadequate for guiding practitioners and researchers who were tackling complex and contested social problems—which they termed “wicked” problems. The full implications of this challenging critique of rational policy planning were not elaborated at that time, but the underlying issues have attracted increasing attention and debate in later decades. Policy analysts, academic researchers, and planning practitioners have continued to grapple with the claim that conventional scientific-technical approaches might be insufficient and even misleading as a basis for understanding and responding to complex social issues. This is paradoxical in the modern era, which has been attracted to notions of evidence-based policymaking, policy evaluation, and performance-based public management. Scholarly discussion has continued to evolve concerning methods for addressing highly contested arenas of policy and planning. One key proposition is that citizens and key stakeholders tend to have conflicting perceptions about the nature of particular social “problems” and will thus have different views about appropriate responses or “solutions.” A related proposition is that these disputes are anchored in differing values and perceptions, which are not able to be adjudicated and settled by empirical science, but require inclusive processes of argumentation and conflict resolution among stakeholders. Hence, several kinds of knowledge—lay and expert, civic and professional—need to be brought together in order to develop transdisciplinary “usable knowledge.” As the research literature produces a richer array of comparative case analyses, it may become feasible to construct a more nuanced understanding of the conditions underlying various kinds of wicked problems in social policy and planning. In the meantime, generalized and indiscriminate use of the term wicked problems is not helpful for delineating the nature of the challenges faced and appropriate remedial actions.

Article

Electoral Volatility in Latin America  

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.

Article

Arms Races: An Assessment of Conceptual and Theoretical Challenges  

Toby J. Rider

An “arms race” is a competition over the quality or quantity of military capabilities between states in the international system. The arms race phenomenon has received considerable attention from scholars over many decades because of the ubiquity, throughout history, of states building arms as a means of deterring enemies, but disagreement persists over whether that policy is effective at avoiding war. The Latin phrase si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning “if you want peace, prepare for war,” dates back to the Roman Empire but the sentiment is likely much older. That states should rapidly build up their militaries in the face of potential threats is a common thread that runs through much of the modern international relations scholarship influenced by realism and deterrence theory. Meeting force with force, the logic went, was the only way to ensure the security or survival of the sovereign state. These states faced a paradox, however, best articulated by the “security dilemma.” Anything a state does in the name of defense, like a rapid military buildup, decreases the security of other states and will be viewed with hostile intent. This set up a debate over competing expectations regarding the relationship between arms races and war (peace). On one hand, deterrence theory posits that rapid arming is necessary to raise the cost of an adversary attacking and, consequently, preserves peace. On the other hand, the spiral model argues that the reality of the security dilemma means that arming produces mistrust, hostility and, thus, increases the likelihood of war. Scholars set out to test these competing hypotheses using large data sets and statistical techniques, but there was widespread disagreement on how to measure arms races, appropriate research design, and the statistical findings were somewhat mixed. Critics of this approach to studying arms races note a number of important weaknesses. First, scholars primarily focus on the consequences of arms races—whether they lead to war or peace—at the expense of understanding the causes. Those who advance this position believe that a theory of arms race onset might well inform our understanding of their consequences. Second, security dilemma, taken as the primary motivation for arms races, suffers from significant logical flaws. Third, assessment of the arms race-war relationship consists of comparative theory tests of deterrence theory and spiral model, yet these ideas are underdeveloped and expectations oversimplified. More recently, scholarship has shifted the focus from the consequences of arms races to developing theories and empirical tests of their causes. These efforts have been informed by insights from bargaining models of war, and their application to this context holds promise for better future understanding of both the causes and consequences of arms races.

Article

Empirically Assessing the Bargaining Theory of War: Potential and Challenges  

Erik A. Gartzke and Paul Poast

What explains war? The so-called bargaining approach has evolved quickly in the past two decades, opening up important new possibilities and raising fundamental challenges to previous conventional thinking about the origins of political violence. Bargaining is intended to explain the causes of conflict on many levels, from interpersonal to international. War is not the product of any of a number of variables creating opportunity or willingness, but instead is caused by whatever factors prevent competitors from negotiating the settlements that result from fighting. Conflict is thus a bargaining failure, a socially inferior outcome, but also a determined choice. Embraced by a growing number of scholars, the bargaining perspective rapidly created a new consensus in some circles. Bargaining theory is radical in relocating at least some of the causes of conflict away from material, cultural, political, or psychological factors and replacing them with states of knowledge about these same material or ideational factors. Approaching conflict as a bargaining failure—produced by uncertainty and incentives to misrepresent, credible commitment problems, or issue indivisibility—is the “state of the art” in the study of conflict. At the same time, bargaining theories remain largely untested in any systematic sense: theory has moved far ahead of empirics. The bargaining perspective has been favored largely because of compelling logic rather than empirical validity. Despite the bargaining analogy’s wide-ranging influence (or perhaps because of this influence), scholars have largely failed to subject the key causal mechanisms of bargaining theory to systematic empirical investigation. Further progress for bargaining theory, both among adherents and in the larger research community, depends on empirical tests of both core claims and new theoretical implications of the bargaining approach. The limited amount of systematic empirical research on bargaining theories of conflict is by no means entirely accident or the product of lethargy on the part of the scholarly community. Tests of theories that involve intangible factors like states of belief or perception are difficult to pursue. How does one measure uncertainty? What does learning look like in the midst of a war? When is indivisibility or commitment a problem, and when can it be resolved through other measures, such as ancillary bargains? The challenge before researchers, however, is to surmount these obstacles. To the degree that progress in science is empirical, bargaining theory needs testing. As should be clear, the dearth of empirical tests of bargaining approaches to the study of conflict leaves important questions unanswered. Is it true, for example, as bargaining theory suggests, that uncertainty leads to the possibility of war? If so, how much uncertainty is required and in what contexts? Which types of uncertainty are most pernicious (and which are perhaps relatively benign)? Under what circumstances are the effects of uncertainty greatest and where are they least critical? Empirical investigation of the bargaining model can provide essential guidance to theoretical work on conflict by identifying insights that can offer intellectual purchase and by highlighting areas of inquiry that are likely to be empirical dead ends. More broadly, the impact of bargaining theory on the study and practice of international relations rests to a substantial degree on the success of efforts to substantiate the perspective empirically.

Article

Managing Critical Infrastructures in Crisis  

Louise K. Comfort

The management of critical infrastructures presents a specific set of challenges to crisis managers. Critical infrastructures include electrical power; communications; transportation; and water, wastewater, and gas line distribution systems. Designed for efficiency, these technical systems operate interdependently, thus making them vulnerable to the stress of extreme events. Changes in population, demographics, land use, and economic and social conditions of communities exposed to hazards have resulted in a significantly increased number of people dependent on critical infrastructures in regions at risk. Advances in science, technology, and engineering have introduced new possibilities for the redesign, maintenance, and retrofit of built infrastructure to withstand extreme events. However, most public and private agencies are not capable of anticipating the potential risk and making investments needed to upgrade infrastructures before damage occurs. Computational modeling facilitates the exploration of alternative approaches to managing risk. Sensors, telemetry, and graphic display of changing performance for critical infrastructure provide accurate information to reduce uncertainty in crisis events. These technologies enable crisis managers to track more accurately the impact of extreme events on the populations and infrastructures of communities at risk and to anticipate the likely consequences of future hazardous events. Crisis managers strive to create a continual learning process that enables residents to monitor their changing environment, use systematically collected data as the basis for analysis and change, and modify policies and practice based on valid evidence from actual environments at risk. For communities seeking to reduce risk, investment in information technologies to enable rapid, community-wide access to interactive communication constitutes a major step toward building capacity not only for managing risk to critical infrastructure but also in maintaining continuity of operations for the whole community in extreme events.