If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us. -Samuel ColeridgeDo political leaders learn from historical experience, and do the lessons of history influence their foreign policy preferences and decisions? It appears that decision makers are always seeking to avoid the failures of the past and that generals are always fighting the last war. The "lessons of Munich" were invoked by Harry Truman in Korea, Anthony Eden in Suez, John Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, and George Bush in the Persian Gulf War. The "lessons of Korea" influenced American debates about Indochina, and the "lessons of Vietnam" were advanced in debates about crises in the Persian Gulf and in Bosnia. Statesmen at Versailles sought to avoid the mistakes of Vienna and those at Bretton Woods, the errors of the Great Depression. Masada still moves the Israelis, and Kosovo drives the Serbs. Inferences from experience and the myths that accompany them often have a far greater impact on policy than is warranted by standard rules of evidence. As J. Steinberg argues, in words that apply equally well to the Munich analogy and the Vietnam syndrome, memories of the British capture of the neutral Danish fleet at Copenhagen in 1807 (the "Copenhagen complex") Because much (but not all) of the important work on foreign policy learning has appeared in the form of articles rather than in books, and because several books that provide key insights about learning focus primarily on other subjects, I will depart from the traditional format of framing a review essay around a handful of key books. I thank a number of scholars for their enormously helpful comments and suggestions on this essay:Learning and foreign policy 281 been case studies of the role of learning in imperial overextension, U.S. military intervention, and U.S.-Soviet cooperation during the cold war, and there are quantitative empirical studies of the impact of historical learning on crisis bargaining behavior and on alliance formation. 4 Others have examined the role of institutions in facilitating learning by providing new information, changing belief systems, creating focal points, and coordinating expectations. Research on epistemic communities focuses on how knowledge-based experts, operating with shared paradigms within transnational or domestic networks, influence policy by shaping political leaders' knowledge of cause-effect relations and definitions of the national interest. 5 Other recent research on learning explicitly builds on theoretical concepts and analytical techniques from other disciplines. Some have applied cognitive scripts and heuristics from social psychology to examine the role of analogical reasoning in decision making through both artificial intelligence models and case study methods. 6 Applied game theorists have examined patterns of learning in iterated prisoners' dilemma games and ...
I focus on the role of case studies in developing causal explanations. I distinguish between the theoretical purposes of case studies and the case selection strategies or research designs used to advance those objectives. I construct a typology of case studies based on their purposes: idiographic (inductive and theory-guided), hypothesis-generating, hypothesis-testing, and plausibility probe case studies. I then examine different case study research designs, including comparable cases, most and least likely cases, deviant cases, and process tracing, with attention to their different purposes and logics of inference. I address the issue of selection bias and the “single logic” debate, and I emphasize the utility of multi-method research.
A half-decade after the first systematic applications of prospect theory to international relations, scholars continue to debate its potential utility as a theoretical framework. Key questions include the validity of the experimental findings themselves, their relevance for real-world international behavior that involves high-stakes decisions by collective actors in interactive settings, and the conceptual status of prospect theory with respect to rational choice. In this essay I assess theoretical and methodological debates over these issues. I review work in social psychology and experimental economics and conclude that challenges to the external validity of prospect theory-based hypotheses for international behavior are much more serious than challenges to their internal validity. I emphasize the similarities between prospect theory and expected-utility theory, argue that hypotheses regarding loss aversion and the reflection effect are easily subsumed within the latter, and that evidence of framing effects and nonlinear responses to probabilities are more problematic for the theory. I conclude that priorities for future research include the construction of hypotheses on the framing of foreign policy decisions and research designs for testing them; the incorporation of framing, loss aversion, and the reflection effect into theories of collective and interactive decision making; and experimental research that is sensitive to the political and strategic context of foreign policy decision making.It is ironic that just as rational choice has become the most influential paradigm in international relations and political science over the last decade, expected-utility theory has come under increasing attack by experimental and empirical evidence of systematic violations of the expected-utility principle in individual-choice behavior. Experimental evidence suggests that people tend to evaluate choices with respect to a reference point, overweight losses relative to comparable gains, engage in risk-averse behavior in choices among gains but risk-acceptant behavior in choices among losses, and respond to probabilities in a nonlinear manner. Many of these patterns have been confirmed by field studies of consumer, investment, and insurance behavior. This challenge to expected-utility theory has been reinforced by the development of prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky, 1979), which integrates these descriptive patterns into an alternative theory of risky choice.
Current debates over the question of whether economic interdependence promotes peace or contributes to international conflict are often framed in terms of the `paradigm wars' between liberal and realist theory. In spite of their differences, most liberal and realist theories of interdependence and conflict agree that trade and other forms of economic interchange between societies will cease or be substantially reduced once states are engaged in serious forms of conflict with each other, particularly after the outbreak of war. Liberal theories generally assume that political leaders are deterred from engaging in conflict when they anticipate that conflict will disrupt or eliminate trade or adversely affect the terms of trade, so the hypothesis that trade deters war rests on the assumption that war impedes trade. Realist theories suggest that the concern over relative gains will lead at least one of the belligerents to terminate trade in order to prevent its adversary from using the gains from trade to increase its relative military power. Contrary to these predictions, there are numerous historical examples of trade between adversaries that continues during wartime. Our aim here is to examine this phenomenon more systematically by conducting an empirical analysis of the short-term and long-term impact of war on trade for seven dyads in the period since 1870. Applying an interrupted time-series model, we find that in most cases war does not have a significant impact on trading relationships. Although war sometimes leads to a temporary decline in the level of dyadic trade, in most instances war has no permanent long-term effect on trading relationships and, in fact, trade often increases in the postwar period. This empirical anomaly in both liberal and realist theories of interdependence and conflict leads us to conclude that both theories need to be reformulated.
The preventive motivation for war arises from political leaders' perceptions that their states' military power and potential are declining relative to those of a rising adversary, and from their fear of the consequences of that decline. It is conceptualized as an intervening variable between changing power differentials and the outbreak of war, and is distinguished from preemption and other sources of better-now-than-later logic. The strength of the preventive motivation is hypothesized to be a function of a state's expectations regarding its rate of military decline, the margin of its inferiority in the future, the probability of a future war, and the probability of a victorious war now with acceptable costs. It is also affected by the risk orientation of decision makers; the influence of the military in the political process; and domestic political factors that undermine the political security of decision makers as well as the military power and potential of the state.
In this essay I evaluate the potential contribution of prospect theory to our understanding of international relations. I begin with the implications of loss aversion, the endowment effect, risk orientation, and framing for theoretical questions relating to the stability of the status quo in international politics, deterrence, bargaining, and preventive war. I then raise conceptual and methodological problems which complicate the theoretical and empirical application of prospect theory to international behavior. I illustrate my arguments with references to some recent attempts to use a prospect theory framework to guide case studies of crises decision-making. I conclude that in applying prospect theory to empirical cases, the analyst must demonstrate not only that empirical behavior is consistent with the theory but also that the observed behavior cannot adequately be explained by a rational choice model which posits the maximization of expected value.
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