Different Models of Decision Making in International Relations

There are different models of decision-making in international relations (IR). Here you’ll know about the various models of decision-making in international relations.

The foreign policy is a process of decision-making. States take actions because people in governments, the decision-makers choose those actions”. Decision-making is a driving process in which changes are made as a result of feedback from the outside world.

Decisions are implemented by actions taken to change the world, and then information from the world is mentioned to evaluate the impact of actions. These evaluations, along with information from other independent changes in the environment, go into the next round of discussions.

Different Models of Decision Making

The Rational Model is the beginning point to study the process of decision-making. In this model, the decision-makers set their targets, assess their relative importance, calculate the costs and benefits of every course of action, then pick the one with the highest benefits and lowest costs.

There may be uncertainty about the choice of action with regard to the costs and benefits of various actions. In this case, the probabilities must be kept in view about every possible outcome of an action, for example, it must be kept in sight whether pressurizing a rival state to accommodate one’s point of view would work or will be counterproductive.

Some decision-makers take risks by accepting others’ points of view while some are averse to taking risks. Those factors may lay a negative impact on the decision-making about various outcomes that could emerge from an action.

The anticipated goals of decision-makers may detract as may the goals of different state agencies. For example, the foreign minister of a state may perceive a situation differently from that of the defense minister. Similarly, the CIA may view a situation differently than National Security Council does.

Therefore, the Rational Model of decision-making is somewhat complicated by uncertainty and the multiplicity of goals of the decision-makers. The Rational Model may appear easier and simple than is actually the case.

The Organizational Process Model is an alternative to the rational model of decision-making. In this model, foreign policy decision-makers generally skip the laborious process of identifying goals and alternative actions.

Instead, they rely on standardized responses or standard operating procedures. For example, the US State Department receives reports and queries every day on a massive scale from its embassies around the world. It dispatches instructions and responses in large numbers to its embassies.

Most of the queries and cables never come to the notice of the top decision-makers i.e., the Secretary of the State or the President. Instead, they are handled by lower-level decision-makers who apply general principles or try to make the least controversial and most standardized decisions.

The decisions made by low-level decision-makers may not reflect the perceptions of high-level decision-makers and demonstrate their own understanding of a matter. “The organizational process model implies that much of foreign policy results from ‘management by muddling through.

The government Bargaining or Bureaucratic Politics Model is another alternative to the Rational Model in which foreign policy decisions emanate from the bargaining process among various government agencies with opposing interests in the outcomes.

In 1992, the situation of whether to import Sushi from California would have weakened Japan’s traditional ban on importing rice to maintain self-sufficiency in its staple food. The Japanese Agriculture Ministry, which wanted to protect the rights of Japanese farmers, opposed imports.

On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry, which wanted to maintain smooth relations with the US, supported the imports. The final decision to import Sushi eventually resulted from the tussle between the two ministries. Thus, according to the Government Bargaining Model, foreign policy decisions show the mix of interests of government agencies.

Individual Decision Making

International events take place because of the decisions made by individuals. The events may be intended or unintended but are the results of the decisions made by the individuals. Sometimes, an individual gets trapped in a perilous situation where he finds himself at crossroads and in a perplexing situation as to what to do as in both cases making a decision or otherwise would have invited havoc to happen.

The US president Harry S. Truman, who decided to drop nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945, was caught in a similar situation. As the leader of the world’s greatest power, he had nobody to pass the responsibility of taking the decision of dropping the atomic bomb. If he decides to drop the bomb, some 100,000 civilians would perish.

If he chose not to, the war might drag on for months causing massive loss of life for the Americans. Truman, therefore, had to choose to drop the bomb.

Some people support him while some condemn his decision. But for better or worse Truman, as an individual had to decide, and take responsibility for the consequences. “Similarly the decisions of individual citizens, although they may not seem important when taken one by one, create the great forces of history.”

The matter of individual decision-making revolves around rationality. It is an important question to ponder over as to what extent the national leaders or citizens are able to make rational decisions in the national interest and thus conform to a realist view of international relations.

Individual rationality cannot be equated with state rationality. States can remove irrational approaches from individual decisions to arrive at rational choices, or states might distort individually rational decisions and end up with irrational choices. But realists are of the view that both states and individuals are rational and that the goals and interests of states conform to the targets and interests of the national leaders.

Generally, the simplified rational actor models believe that interests are the same from one actor to another. If it is so, individuals could be replaced by each other in different roles without changing history to a greater extent. And states would behave similarly to each other.

Individual decision-makers have divergent values and beliefs! They are unique persons in many respects. They have their own style of making decisions.

The study of individual psychology has revealed low personality effects on decision-making. Psychoanalytic approaches believe that personalities affect the subconscious influences of childhood experiences.

For instance, Bill Clinton drew much criticism in his early years as President for a foreign policy that seemed to zigzag. “Bill Clinton was always ready to compromise on policy issues which was a glaring characteristic of his personality. He himself said in an interview that his experience of growing up with a violent, alcoholic stepfather shaped him into a “peacemaker” always trying to minimize the disruption”.

Beyond personal whims and experiences in goals or decision-making processes, individual decision-making detracts from the rational model in at least three systematic ways.

First decision makers suffer from misperceptions and selective perceptions, (taking in only some kinds of information) when they compile information on likely consequences of their choices”.

The Decision-making process has to curtail and thrash out the incoming information on which a decision is going to be based, but usually, this filtration is biased that affects the decision-making process.

Information screens are sub-conscious filters through which people put the information coming in about the world around them. They usually ignore information that is not in line with their own thinking and expectations.

Information is also filtered and screened out when it travels from one person to another. American intelligence failed to completely understand available evidence before the 2001 terrorist attacks because the analyses were in the Arabic language.

As the US officials could not comprehend what was written in Arabic, they ignored the warning signals and could do nothing to avert the disaster. Similarly, the Soviet Union in 1941 and Israeli leaders in 1973 simply ignored the looming invasions in their countries.

Misperception is a curse that can damage the implementation of the policy by low-grade officials. It also affects the formulation of policy by high-level government officials.

An excellent example of misunderstanding is when in 1988, US officials on a warship sailing in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down a civilian Iranian jet that they understood to be a military jet coming to attack them.

The warship officers were trying to implement policies formulated by national leaders, but due to misperceptions, their actions did great damage to their state interests.

Second, affective biases also play role in damaging the decision-making by individuals. The rationality of individual cost-benefit calculations is rendered ineffective by the emotions of the decision-makers at the time of thinking about the aftermath of their actions, it is referred to as affective bias.

Positive or negative effect means liking or disliking someone. Despite being very sincere in making a decision, the decision-making process is bound to be influenced by strong feelings and emotions about the person or state about which the decision is intended. “Affective biases also contribute to information screening as negative information about liked people is screened out”.

Cognitive Biases

“Third, cognitive biases are systematic distortions of rational calculations based not on emotional feelings but simply on the limitation of the human brain in making decisions.

To try to produce cognitive balance and minimize cognitive disagreement is the most important endeavor. The terms refer to the tendency people have to try to maintain mental models of the world that are logically consistent and seldom succeed entirely.

One presumption of cognitive balance is that decision-makers attach greater importance to goals than they make efforts in achieving them. This is particularly the case in a democratic system in which the politicians have to face their people’s verdict in the polls and, therefore, do not admit their failures.

In the 1960s, the US decision-makers were trapped in Vietnam War in this way. After throwing half a million troops around the world, US leaders were at a loss to apprehend whether the costs of plunging the troops were greater than the benefits.

Wishful thinking is considered a dangerous trend while making a decision on any foreign policy matter. Decision-makers also achieve cognitive balance through wishful thinking which is an overestimation of the desired outcome.

Wishful thinking means that an event with a low possibility of happening will not occur. This could be -very dangerous to think about disastrous events such as accidental nuclear war or a terrorist attack.

“Cognitive balance often leads the decision makers to maintain a hardened image of an enemy and to interpret all of the enemy’s actions in a negative light, because the idea of the bad people doing good things would create cognitive dissonance”. A mirror image means two sides.

In a conflict maintaining a closely similar image of each other. A decision maker sometimes can experience his or her own feeling toward another actor.

For example, if Indian leaders ever wanted to dominate Pakistan in the nuclear race but found that objective contrary to their image of peaceful and defensive, the cognitive dissonance that would be the result of this feeling might be compromised by believing that Pakistan was trying to gain nuclear superiority.

The use of historical analogies is another form of cognitive bias which is related to cognitive balance meant to formulate one’s thinking about a decision.

This can be useful and misleading at the same time depending on whether the analogy is appropriate since every historical situation is extraordinary in some way, and when a decision-maker depends solely on an analogy to use it as a shortcut to a decision the rational calculation of costs and benefits may also be cut short.

The decision-makers quite often believe that a solution that worked in the past will work again without taking into account the nature and type of the situation. They do not like to ponder over how similar the situations are.

For instance, the US leaders used wrongly the analogy of Munich in 1938 to conclude that the appeasement in the Vietnam War will give a fillip to communist aggression in Asia.

The difference between North Vietnam and Nazi Germany, however, made it a poor analogy because of the civil war nature of the Vietnam conflict.

The leaders then used the analogy of the war during the Vietnam conflict to desist from using too much force because it might attract direct Chinese involvement.

The Vietnam War then became a valid analogy that convinced the US leaders to keep away from involvement in certain overseas adventures including Bosnia.

It came to be known as the “Vietnam Syndrome” in US foreign policy. All of these psychological processes are misperception; effective biases and cognitive biases that interfere with the rational assessment of costs and benefits in making a decision.

There are two specific options that can be introduced to the rational model of decision-making to accept psychological realities.

First, the model of bounded rationality considers the costs of acquiring and processing information. There is no single course of action when making a decision. The decision-makers usually keep on working on different options until they reach a “good enough” option that fulfills some minimum criteria which are finding a satisfactory solution.

Second, prospect theory provides an alternative explanation of decisions made under duress i.e., risk or uncertainty. This theory explains that decision-makers go through two phases.

There is an editing phase during which the decision makers edit the options available and the feasibilities of different outcomes linked with each option. Then comes the evolution phase during which the decision-makers weigh the options and pick one which appears more feasible.

Prospect theory believes that evaluation is carried out by comparing with a reference point which is usually the normal situation prevailing or might be some past or expected situation. The decision maker ponders deeply whether he or she could do better than that reference point, but the importance placed on outcomes depends on how far they are from the reference point.

Group Tendencies in Decision Making

It is pertinent to discuss in what ways group tendencies affect foreign policy decision-making. In the first place, groups push rationality by attaching the same value to the blind spots and biases of any individual.

Advisors and legislative bodies may compel a state leader to reconsider a hasty decision. Then the interactions of different individuals in a group may help in the formulation of goals that are more closely in line with the state interests than individual leanings. However, group forces are also the source of irrationality in the decision-making process.

“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. The extraordinary fact is demonstrated by a simple psychological experiment.

A group of six people is tasked to compare the length of two lines shown on a screen. When five of the people are instructed to say that line A is longer even though it is clear that line B is longer, in fact, the sixth person will agree with the group rather than believing his or her own eyes.

As against individuals, groups tend to be more optimistic about the chances of success and, therefore, are more willing to take risks. Participants do away with their doubts about fake undertakings everyone else seems to perceive that an idea will work. Also, as the group dissipates responsibility from individuals, nobody feels accountable for action.

Structure of a Decision-Making Process

Different Models of Decision-Making in International Relations also depend on their structure. The rules for who is involved in making the decision, and how voting is conducted can affect the outcome, especially when no single alternative appeals to the majority of participants. Experienced participants in foreign policymaking are familiar with the techniques for manipulating the decision-making process to favor the outcome they prefer.

A common technique is to control a group’s formal decision rules. These rules include the items of business the group discusses in the order in which the proposals are considered. Probably most important is the ability to control the agenda and thereby structure the terms of the debate.

State leaders often bank on an inner circle of advisors in making foreign policy decisions. The formation and working of the inner circle vary from government to government.

For instance, President Lyndon Johnson had “Tuesday lunches” to discuss national security issues in addition to formal and routine meetings. Some leaders create a “Kitchen Cabinet”, which is a trusted group of friends who discuss policy issues with the leaders even though they have no formal positions in government.

Crisis Management in Decision-Making Process

Crises usually erupt during a foreign policy-making process which often is difficult to resolve. The decisions in reaching a consensus both for individuals and groups become highly difficult during a crisis. Crises in foreign policy are those situations in which outcomes are important and time frames are compressed.

Crisis decision-making is very difficult to understand and foretell. Crisis decision-making is harder to understand and predict than normal foreign policymaking.

In a crisis, decision-making operates under tremendous time restraints. The normal checks on unwise decisions may not operate, communication may become shorter and stereotyped, and information that does not suit a decision maker’s “perception” is more likely to be ignored simply because there is no time to consider it.

Group mentality surfaces frequently during a crisis. During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis President John F. Kennedy set up a small and closely-associated group of individuals who closely worked together tirelessly for several days on and cut off from the outside world and detached themselves from all other discussions.

Even the presidential communications with Soviet leader Khrushchev were intercepted and dispatched after scrutiny.

Kennedy left the room from time to time allowing complete freedom to encourage free discussion, anticipating the dangers of Groupthink. The group, however, managed to identify by these means, an option of a naval blockade between the first two choices of bombing the missile sites or taking no action at all.

Some national leaders intentionally appoint someone from the group known as “Devil’s Advocate” to object to and criticize the ideas. The purpose of appointing a “Devil’s Advocate” is to keep others on their toes all the time.

The decision-makers in crisis management are heavily under stress and experience awful psychological pressure. On several moments, the crisis managers undergo dreadful stress while taking a final decision. It has been usually seen that most people lack sound decision-making skills under stress as stress magnifies biases.

Decision-makers, in crises, usually give more weightage to the hostilities of their foes and underestimate their own hostilities towards their opponents. Dislike of adversaries turns into abhorrence, anxiety, and fear.

In haste more and more information is filtered in order to reach a decision and restore cognitive balance. Crisis decision-making also causes physical exhaustion and fatigue. Acute lack of sleep tells heavily upon the nerves of the decision makers as they use every hour to stay on top of the crisis.

Unless decision-makers are careful about getting enough sleep, they may make vital foreign policy decisions under shifting perceptual and mood changes.

Whether in crisis or normal circumstances, individual decision-makers are not alone while making a decision. Their decisions are shaped by the governments and the society in which they live and work.

Foreign policy is influenced and shaped by substate actors such as government agencies, political interest groups, public opinion, and ideologies prevailing in domestic politics.

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