Theories of International Relations Paper

Theories of International Relations*
Ole R. Holsti
Universities and professional associations usually are organized in ways that tend to separate
scholars in adjoining disciplines and perhaps even to promote stereotypes of each other and
their scholarly endeavors. The seemingly natural areas of scholarly convergence between
diplomatic historians and political scientists who focus on international relations have been
underexploited, but there are also some signs that this may be changing. These include recent
essays suggesting ways in which the two disciplines can contribute to each other; a number of
prizewinning dissertations, later turned into books, by political scientists that effectively
combine political science theories and historical materials; collaborative efforts among scholars
in the two disciplines; interdisciplinary journals such as International Security that provide an
outlet for historians and political scientists with common interests; and creation of a new
section, International History and Politics, within the American Political Science
*The author has greatly benefited from helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay by
Peter Feaver, Alexander George, Joseph Grieco, Michael Hogan, Kal Holsti, Bob Keohane,
Timothy Lomperis, Roy Melbourne, James Rosenau, and Andrew Scott, and also from reading
K. J. Holsti, The Dividing Discipline: Hegemony and Diversity in International Theory
(London, 1985).
This essay is an effort to contribute further to an exchange of ideas between the two
disciplines by describing some of the theories, approaches, and “models” political scientists
have used in their research on international relations during recent decades. A brief essay
cannot do justice to the entire range of theoretical approaches that may be found in the current
literature, but perhaps those described here, when combined with citations of some
representative works, will provide diplomatic historians with a useful, if sketchy, map showing
some of the more prominent landmarks in a neighboring discipline.
The most enduring great debate among students and practitioners of international
relations has pitted realism against various challengers. Because “classical realism” is the most
venerable and persisting theory of international relations, it provides a good starting point and
baseline for comparison with competing models. Robert Gilpin may have been engaging in
hyperbole when he questioned whether our understanding of international relations has
advanced significantly since Thucydides, but one must acknowledge that the latter’s analysis of
the Peloponnesian War includes concepts that are not foreign to contemporary students of
balance-of-power politics.2
Following a discussion of classical realism, an examination of modern realism or neorealism will identify the continuities and differences between the two approaches. The essay
then turns to several models that challenge one or more core premises of both classical and
modern realism. The first three challengers focus on the system level: Global-Society/Complex-
Interdependence/Liberal-Institutionalism, Marxist/World System/Dependeny, and
constructivism. Subsequent sections discuss several decision-making models, all of which
share a skepticism about the adequacy of theories that focus on the structure of the international
system while neglecting political processes within units that comprise the system.
Several limitations should be stated at the outset. Each of the systemic and decisionmaking approaches described below is a composite of several models; limitations of space have
made it necessary to focus on the common denominators rather than on subtle differences
among them. This discussion will pay little attention to the second great debate, centering
mostly on methodological issues; for example, what Stanley Hoffmann called the battle of the
literates versus the numerates.3
Efforts of some political scientists to develop “formal” or
mathematical approaches to international relations are neglected here; such abstract models are
likely to be of limited interest to historians.4
The post modern challenge to all other theories
and methodologies–the third great debate–will only briefly be described and evaluated.
With these caveats, let me turn now to classical realism, the first of the systematic models to be
discussed in this essay.
There have always been Americans, such as Alexander Hamilton, who viewed
international relations from a realist perspective, but its contemporary intellectual roots are
largely European. Three important figures of the interwar period probably had the greatest
impact on American scholarship: diplomat-historian E. H. Carr, geographer Nicholas Spykman,
and political theorist Hans Morgenthau. Other Europeans who have contributed significantly to
realist thought include John Herz, Raymond Aron, Hedley Bull, and Martin Wight, while
notable Americans of this school include scholars Arnold Wolfers and Norman Graebner,
diplomat George Kennan, journalist Walter Lippmann, and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.5
Although realists do not constitute a homogeneous school–any more than do any of the
others discussed in this essay–most of them share at least five core premises about international
relations. To begin with, they view as central questions the causes of war and the conditions of
peace. They also regard the structure of the international system as a necessary if not always
sufficient explanation for many aspects of international relations. According to classical
realists, “structural anarchy,” or the absence of a central authority to settle disputes, is the
essential feature of the contemporary system, and it gives rise to the “security dilemma”:
in a self-help system one nation’s search for security often leaves its current and potential
adversaries insecure, any nation that strives for absolute security leaves all others in the system
absolutely insecure, and it can provide a powerful incentive for arms races and other types of
hostile interactions. Consequently, the question of relative capabilities is a crucial factor.
Efforts to deal with this central element of the international system constitute the driving force
behind the relations of units within the system; those that fail to cope will not survive. Thus,
unlike “idealists” and some “liberal internationalists,” classical realists view conflict as a natural
state of affairs rather than as a consequence that can be attributed to historical circumstances,
evil leaders, flawed sociopolitical systems, or inadequate international understanding and
A third premise that unites classical realists is their focus on geographically-based groups
as the central actors in the international system. During other periods the primary entities may
have been city states or empires, but at least since the Treaties of Westphalia (1648), sovereign
states have been the dominant units. Classical realists also agree that state behavior is rational.
The assumption behind this fourth premise is that states are guided by the logic of the “national
interest,” usually defined in terms of survival, security, power, and relative capabilities.
Although the national interest may vary according to specific circumstances, the similarity of
motives among nations permits the analyst to reconstruct the logic of policymakers in their
pursuit of national interests–what Morgenthau called the “rational hypothesis”–and to avoid the
fallacies of concern with motives and concern with ideological preferences.”6
Finally, the state can also be conceptualized as a unitary actor. Because the central
problems for states are starkly defined by the nature of the international system, their actions are
primarily a response to external rather than domestic political forces. According to Stephen
Krasner, for example, the state “can be treated as an autonomous actor pursuing goals
associated with power and the general interest of the society.”7
Classical realists, however,
sometimes use domestic politics, especially the alleged deficiencies of public opinion, as a
residual category to explain deviations from rational policies.
Realism has been the dominant model of international relations during at least the past
six decades because it seemed to provide a useful framework for understanding the collapse of
the post-World War I international order in the face of serial aggressions in the Far East and
Europe, World War II, and the Cold War. Nevertheless, the classical versions articulated by
Morgenthau and others have received a good deal of critical scrutiny. The critics have included
scholars who accept the basic premises of realism but who found that in at least four important
respects these theories lacked sufficient precision and rigor.
Classical realism has usually been grounded in a pessimistic theory of human nature, either
a theological version (for example, Saint Augustine and Reinhold Niebuhr) or a secular one (for
example, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Morgenthau). Egoism and self-interested behavior are not
limited to a few evil or misguided leaders but are basic to homo politicus and thus are at the
core of a realist theory. But because human nature, if it means anything, is a constant rather
than a variable, it is an unsatisfactory explanation for the full range of international relations. If
human nature explains war and conflict, what accounts for peace and cooperation? In order to
avoid this problem, most modern realists have turned their attention from human nature to the
structure of the international system to explain state behavior.8
In addition, critics have noted a lack of precision and even contradictions in the way
classical realists use such core concepts as “power,” “national interest,” and “balance of
They also see possible contradictions between the central descriptive and prescriptive
elements of realism. On the one hand, nations and their leaders “think and act in terms of
interests defined as power,” but, on the other, statesmen are urged to exercise prudence and
self-restraint, as well as to recognize the legitimate interests of other nations.10 Power plays a
central role in classical realism, but the correlation between relative power balances and
political outcomes is often less than compelling, suggesting the need to enrich analyses with
other variables. Moreover, the distinction between power as capabilities” and “usable options”
is especially important in the nuclear age, as the United States discovered in Vietnam and the
Soviets learned in Afghanistan. The terrorist attack on New York and Washington of
September 11, 2001, even more dramatically illustrated the disjunction between material
capabilities and political impact.
Although classical realists have typically looked to history and political science for insights
and evidence, the search for greater precision has led many modern realists to look elsewhere
for appropriate models, analogies, metaphors, and insights. The discipline of choice is often
economics, from which modern realists have borrowed a number of tools and concepts,
including rational choice, expected utility, theories of firms and markets, bargaining theory, and
game theory.
The quest for precision has yielded a rich harvest of theories and models, and a somewhat
less bountiful crop of supporting empirical applications. Drawing in part on game theory,
Morton Kaplan described several types of international systems–for example, balance-ofpower, loose bipolar, tight bipolar, universal, hierarchical, and unit-veto. He then outlined the
essential rules that constitute these systems. For example, the rules for a balance-of-power
system are: “(1) increase capabilities, but negotiate rather than fight; (2) fight rather than fail to
increase capabilities; (3) stop fighting rather than eliminate an essential actor; (4) oppose any
coalition or single actor that tends to assume a position of predominance within the system; (5)
constrain actors who subscribe to supranational organizational principles; and (6) permit
defeated or constrained essential actors to re-enter the system.”11 Richard Rosecrance, David
Singer, Karl Deutsch, Bruce Russett, and many others, although not necessarily realists, also
have developed models that seek to understand international relations by virtue of system-level
Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics, the most prominent effort to develop a
rigorous and parsimonious model of “modern” or structural” realism, has tended to define the
terms of a vigorous debate during the past two decades. It follows and builds upon another
enormously influential book in which Waltz developed the Rousseauian position that a theory
of war must include the system level (what he called the “third image”) and not just first
(theories of human nature) or second (state attributes) images. Why war? Because there is
nothing in the system to prevent it. 13
Theory of International Relations is grounded in analogies from microeconomics:
international politics and foreign policy are analogous to markets and firms. Oligopoly theory
is used to illuminate the dynamics of interdependent choice in a self-help anarchical system.
Waltz explicitly limits his attention to a structural theory of international systems, eschewing
the task of linking it to a theory of foreign policy.14 Indeed, he doubts that the two can be
joined in a single theory and he is highly critical of many system-level analysts, including
Morton Kaplan, Stanley Hoffmann, Richard Rosecrance, Karl Deutsch, David Singer, and
others, charging them with various errors, including “reductionism,” that is, defining the system
in terms of the attributes or interactions of the units.
In order to avoid reductionism and to gain parsimony, Waltz erects his theory on the
foundations of three core propositions that define the structure of the international system. The
first concentrates on the principles by which the system is ordered. The contemporary system is
anarchic and decentralized rather than hierarchical; although they differ in many respects, each
unit (state) is formally equal. A second defining proposition is the character of the units. An
anarchic system is composed of sovereign units and therefore the functions that they perform
are also similar; for example, all have the task of providing for their own security. In contrast, a
hierarchical system would be characterized by some type of division of labor. Finally, there is
the distribution of capabilities among units in the system. Although capabilities are a unit-level
attribute, the distribution of capabilities is a system-level concept.15 A change in any of these
elements constitutes a change in system structure. The first element of structure as defined by
Waltz is a quasi-constant because the ordering principle rarely changes, and the second element
drops out of the analysis because the functions of units are similar as long as the system
remains anarchic. Thus, the third attribute, the distribution of capabilities, plays the central role
in Waltz’s model.
Waltz uses his theory to deduce the central characteristics of international relations.
These include some nonobvious propositions about the contemporary international system. For
example, with respect to system stability (defined as maintenance of its anarchic character and
no consequential variation in the number of major actors) he concludes that, because a bipolar
system reduces uncertainty, it is more stable than alternative structures. Furthermore, he
contends that because interdependence has declined rather than increased during the twentieth
century, this trend has actually contributed to stability, and he argues that the proliferation of
nuclear weapons may contribute to rather than erode system stability.16
Waltz’s effort to bring rigor and parsimony to realism has stimulated a good deal of further
research, but it has not escaped controversy and criticism.17 Most of the vigorous debate has
centered on four alleged deficiencies relating to interests and preferences, system change,
misallocation of variables between the system and unit levels, and an inability to explain
Specifically, a spare structural approach suffers from an inability to identify completely the
nature and sources of interests and preferences because these are unlikely to derive solely from
the structure of the system. Ideology or domestic politics may often be at least as important.
Consequently, the model is also unable to specify adequately how interests and preferences may
change. The three defining characteristics of system structure are not sufficiently sensitive to
specify the sources and dynamics of system change. The critics buttress their claim that the
model is too static by pointing to Waltz’s assertion that there has only been a single structural
change in the international system during the past three centuries.
Another drawback is the restrictive definition of system properties, which leads Waltz to
misplace, and therefore neglect, elements of international relations that properly belong at the
system level. Critics have focused on his treatment of the destructiveness of nuclear weapons
and interdependence. Waltz labels these as unit-level properties, whereas some of his critics
assert that they are in fact attributes of the system.
Finally, the distribution of capabilities explains outcomes in international affairs only in the
most general way, falling short of answering the questions that are of central interest to many
analysts. For example, the distribution of power at the end of World War II would have
enabled one to predict the rivalry that emerged between the United States and the Soviet Union
(as de Tocqueville did more than a century earlier) but it would have been inadequate for
explaining the pattern of relations between these two nations–the Cold War rather than
withdrawal into isolationism by either or both, a division of the world into spheres of influence,
or World War III. In order to do so, it is necessary to explore political processes within states–
at minimum within the United States and the Soviet Union–as well as between them.
Robert Gilpin shares the core assumptions of modern realism, but his study of War and
Change in World Politics also attempts to cope with some of the criticism leveled at Waltzs
theory by focusing on the dynamics of system change. In doing so, Gilpin also seeks to avoid
the criticism that the Waltz theory is largely ahistorical. Drawing upon both economic and
sociological theory, his model is based on five core propositions. The first is that the
international system is in a state of equilibrium if no state believes that it is profitable to attempt
to change it. Second, a state will attempt to change the status quo of the international system if
the expected benefits outweigh the costs. Related to this is the proposition that a state will seek
change through territorial, political, and economic expansion until the marginal costs of further
change equal or exceed the marginal benefits. Moreover, when an equilibrium between the
costs and benefits of further change and expansion is reached, the economic costs of
maintaining the status quo (expenditures for military forces, support for allies, etc.) tend to rise
faster than the resources needed to do so. An equilibrium exists when no powerful state
believes that a change in the system would yield additional net benefits. Finally, if the resulting
disequilibrium between the existing governance of the international system and the
redistribution of power is not resolved, the system will be changed and a new equilibrium
reflecting the distribution of relative capabilities will be established.18
Unlike Waltz, Gilpin includes state-level processes in order to explain change. Differential
economic growth rates among nations–a a vital role in
his explanation for the rise and decline of great powers, but his model also includes
propositions about the law of diminishing returns on investments, the impact of affluence on
martial spirit and on the ratio of consumption to investment, and structural change in the
economy.19 Table 1 summarizes some key elements of realism. It also contrasts them to other
models of , Marxist/World
System/Dependency, and constructivism, to which we now turn.
Global Society, Interdependence, Institutionalism
Just as there are variants of realism, there are several Global-Society/ComplexIndependence/Liberal Institutionalism (GS/CI/LI) models, but this discussion focuses on two
common denominators; they all challenge the first and third core propositions of realism
identified earlier, asserting that inordinate attention to the war/peace issue and the nation-state
renders it an increasingly anachronistic model of global relations.20
The agenda of critical problems confronting states has been vastly expanded during the
twentieth century. Attention to the issues of war and peace is by no means misdirected,
according to proponents of a GS/CI/LI perspective, but concerns for welfare, modernization, the
environment, and the like are today no less potent sources of motivation and action. It is
important to stress that the potential for cooperative action arises from self-interest, not from
some utopian attribution of altruism to state leaders. Institution building to reduce uncertainty,
information costs, and fears of perfidy; improved international education and communication to
ameliorate fears and antagonisms based on misinformation and misperceptions; and the
positive-sum possibilities of such activities as trade are but a few of the ways, according to the
GS/CI/LI perspective, by which states may jointly gain and thus mitigate, if not eliminate, the
harshest features of a self-help international system. The diffusion of knowledge and
technology, combined with the globalization of communications, has vastly increased popular
expectations. The resulting demands have outstripped resources and the ability of sovereign
states to cope effectively with them. Interdependence and institution building arise from an
inability of even the most powerful states to cope, or to do so unilaterally or at acceptable levels
of cost and risk, with issues ranging from terrorism to trade, from immigration to environmental
threats, and from AIDS to new strains of tuberculosis.21
Paralleling the widening agenda of critical issues is the expansion of actors whose behavior
can have a significant impact beyond national boundaries; indeed, the cumulative effects of
their actions can have profound consequences for the international system. Thus, although
states continue to be the most important international actors, they possess a declining ability to
control their own destinies. The aggregate effect of actions by multitudes of nonstate actors can
have potent effects that transcend political boundaries. These may include such powerful or
highly visible nonstate organizations as Exxon, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries, or the Palestine Liberation Organization, and even shadowy ones such as the al
Qaeda group that claimed to have carried out the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On the other hand, the
cumulative effects of decisions by less powerful actors may also have profound international
consequences. For example, decisions by thousands of individuals, mutual funds, banks,
pension funds, and other financial institutions to sell securities on 19 October 1987 not only
resulted in an unprecedented crash on Wall Street but also within hours its consequences
were felt throughout the entire global financial system. The difficulties of containing economic
problems within a single country were also illustrated by the international consequences of
difficulties in Thailand, Mexico and Russia during the late 1990s.
The widening agenda of critical issues, most of which lack a purely national solution,
has also led to creation of new actors that transcend political boundaries; for example,
international organizations, transnational organizations, nongovernment organizations,
multinational corporations, and the like. Thus, not only does an exclusive focus on the
war/peace issue fail to capture the complexities of contemporary international life but it also
blinds the analyst to the institutions, processes, and norms that self-interested states may use to
mitigate some features of an anarchic system. In short, according to GS/CI/LI perspectives,
analysts of a partially globalized world may incorporate elements of realism (anarchy, selfinterest, rationality, etc.) as a necessary starting point, but these are not sufficient for an
adequate understanding.
The GS/CI/LI models recognize that international behavior and outcomes arise from a
multiplicity of motives, not merely the imperatives of systemic power balances. They also alert
us to the fact that important international processes originate not only in the actions of states but
also in the aggregated behavior of other actors. These models enable the analyst to deal with a
broader agenda of critical issues; they also force one to contemplate a richer menu of demands,
processes, and outcomes than would be derived from realist models, and thus, they are more
sensitive to the possibility that politics of trade, currency, immigration, health, the environment,
or energy may significantly and systematically differ from those typically associated with
security issues.
A point of some disagreement among theorists lumped together here under the GS/CI/LI
rubric centers on the importance and future prospects of the nation-state. The state serves as the
starting point for analysts who focus on the ways in which these self-interested actors may
pursue gains and reduce risks and uncertainties by various means, including creation of
institutions. They view the importance of the nation-state as a given for at least the foreseeable
Other theorists regard the sovereign territorial state as in a process of irreversible decline,
partly because the revolution in communications is widening the horizons and thus providing
competition for loyalties of its citizens, partly because states are increasingly incapable of
meeting the expanding expectations of its subjects; the revolution of rising expectations is not
limited to less developed countries. Theirs is a largely utilitarian view of the state in which
national sentiments and loyalties depend importantly on continuing favorable answers to the
question: what have you done for me lately? However, these analysts may be
underestimating the potency of nationalism and the durability of the state. Several decades ago
one of them wrote that “the nation is declining in its importance as a political unit to which
allegiances are attached.22 Objectively, nationalism may be an anachronism but, for better or
worse, powerful loyalties are still attached to states. The suggestion that, because even some
well-established nations have experienced independence movements among ethnic, cultural, or
religious minorities, the territorial state is in an irreversible decline is not wholly persuasive. In
virtually every region of the world there are groups that seek to create or restore geographicallybased entities in which its members may enjoy the status and privileges associated with
sovereign territorial statehood. Events since 1989 in Eastern Europe, parts of the former
Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Quebec, Turkey, and elsewhere, seem
to indicate that obituaries for nationalism may be somewhat premature.
The notion that such powerful nonnational actors as major multinational corporations
(MNCs) will soon transcend the nation-state seems equally premature. International drug rings
do appear capable of challenging and perhaps even dominating national authorities in
Colombia, Panama, and some other states. But the pattern of outcomes in confrontations
between MNCs and states, including cases involving major expropriations of corporate
properties, indicate that even relatively weak nations are not always the hapless pawns of
MNCs. The 9/11 terrorist attacks demonstrated once again that even the most powerful states
that also enjoy a favorable geographical location cannot provide absolute safety for their
populations. Perhaps paradoxically, these attacks and the resulting responses also reconfirmed
the continuing importance of the state in world politics.
Underlying the GS/CI/LI critique of realist theories is the view that the latter are too
wedded to the past and are thus incapable of dealing adequately with change. Even if global
dynamics arise from multiple sources (including nonstate actors), however the actions of states
and their agents would appear to remain the major sources of change in the international
system. The third group of systemic theories to be considered, the Marxist/World
System/Dependency (M/WS/D) models, further downplays the role of the nation-state even
Marxism, World Systems, Dependency
Many of the distinctions among M/WS/D theories are lost by treating them together and by
focusing on their common features, but in the brief description possible here only common
denominators will be presented. These models challenge both the war/peace and state-centered
features of realism, but they do so in ways that differ sharply from challenges of GS/CI/LI
models.23 Rather than focusing on war and peace, these theories direct attention to quite
different issues, including uneven development, poverty, and exploitation within and between
nations. These conditions, arising from the dynamics of the modes of production and exchange,
and they must be incorporated into any analysis of intra- and inter-nation conflict.
According to adherents of these models, the key groups within and between nations are
classes and their agents: As Immanuel Wallerstein put it, in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries there as been only one world system in existence, the world capitalist worldeconomy.”24 The world capitalist system” is characterized by a highly unequal division of
labor between the periphery and core. Those at the periphery are essentially the drawers of
water and the hewers of wood whereas the latter appropriate the surplus of the entire world
economy. This critical feature of the world system not only gives rise to and perpetuates a
widening rather than narrowing gap between the wealthy core and poor periphery but also to a
dependency relationship from which the latter are unable to break loose. Moreover, the class
structure within the core, characterized by a growing gap between capital and labor, is faithfully
reproduced in the periphery so that elites there share with their counterparts in the core an
interest in perpetuating the system. Thus, in contrast to many realist theories, M/WS/D models
encompass and integrate theories of both the global and domestic arenas.
M/WS/D models have been subjected to trenchant critiques.25 The state, nationalism,
security dilemmas, and related concerns are at the theoretical periphery rather than at the core.
Capitalism was from the beginning an affair of the world-economy,” Wallerstein asserts, not
of nation-states.”26 A virtue of many M/WS/D theories is that they take a long historical
perspective on world affairs rather than merely focusing on contemporary issues. Yet, by
neglecting nation-states and the dynamics arising from their efforts to deal with security in an
anarchical system–or at best relegating these actors and motivations to a minor role–M/WS/D
models are open to question, much as would be analyses of Hamlet that neglect the central
character and his motivations.
Finally, the earlier observations about the persistence of nationalism as an element of
international relations seem equally appropriate here. Perhaps national loyalties can be
dismissed as prime examples of “false consciousness,” but even in areas that experienced two
generations of , as in China, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, or
Estonia, there was scant evidence that feelings of solidarity with workers in the Soviet Union or
elsewhere replaced nationalist sentiments.
The end of the Cold War and subsequent events have rendered Marxist theories somewhat
problematic, but the gap between rich and poor states has, if anything, become more acute
during the past decade. Globalization has helped some Third World countries such as
Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, but it has done little for most African countries. This
condition has given rise to two somewhat related explanation for disparities, not only between
the industrial west and the rest of the world, but also among countries that gained their
independence since 1945.
The first focuses on geography. One analyst notes, for example, that landlocked countries
in tropical zones have serious disadvantages in coping with such health problems as malaria
and in overcoming the high costs of land transportation for exporting their goods.27 The
second cluster of theories purporting to explain uneven development point to cultural
differences.28 Neither of these theories is new; Max Webers The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism is a classic illustration of a cultural explanation for development.
While geographical and cultural theories have enjoyed some revival recently, they have
also provoked spirited debates, in part because of highly dubious uses in the past.29 Unlike
Marxist theories, they also appear to place the primary responsibility for under-development on
the poor countries themselves, and they seem to offer limited prospects for coping with the
problem because neither geography nor culture can easily be changed. Proponents of these
theories respond that a proper diagnosis of the roots of under-development is a necessary
condition for its amelioration; for example through aid programs that target public health and
transportation infrastructure needs.
Although the theories described to this point tended to dominate debates during the past
century, constructivism has recently emerged as a significant approach to world politics.
Unlike many post-modernists (discussed in the next section), most constructivists work
within the theoretical and epistemological premises of the social sciences, and they generally
seek to expand rather than undermine the purview of other theoretical perspectives. As with
other approaches summarized in this essay, constructivists do not constitute a monolithic
perspective, but they do share some key ideas, the first of which is that the environment in
which states act is social and ideational as well as material. Money provides a good example of
the construction of social reality. If money is limited to metals such as gold and silver, then it
has value because the metal itself is valuable, and its use constitutes a form of barter. For
reasons of convenience and to expand the money supply, modern governments have also
designated bits of colored paper and base metals to serve as money although they have little if
any intrinsic value; that they are valuable and can be used as a medium of exchange is the result
of a construction of economic reality.30
In their emphasis on the construction of social reality, its proponents challenge the
materialist basis of the approaches discussed above. Because the social gives meaning to the
material, many core concepts, including anarchy, power, national interest, security dilemma,
and others, are seen as socially constructed rather than as the ineluctable consequences of
system structures. Moreover, interests and identities–for example, those who are designated as
allies or enemies–are also social constructs, the products of human agency, rather than
structurally determined. The title of a widely-cited work by Alexander Wendt, Anarchy is
What States Make of It, provides something of the flavor of the constructionist perspective.
Wendt shows that because anarchy can have multiple meanings for different actors, it may give
rise to a wider range of behaviors than postulated by realism.31
Constructivists have also shown that ideas and norms sometimes compete with, shape, or
even trump material interests. Although not labeled as a constructivist analysis, an early study
of John Foster Dulles policies toward the USSR revealed that he constructed a model of the
Soviet system, based largely on his lifelong study of Lenins writings. Brutal Soviet foreign
policies during the Stalin era provided ample support for Dulles model, but the more
variegated policies of those who came to power in the Kremlin after the Soviet dictators death
in 1953 were also interpreted in ways suggesting that Dulles model was largely impervious to
any evidence that might call it into question.32 The end of the Cold War and disintegration of
the Soviet Union have triggered off a lively debate among proponents of ideational and material
interpretations of the acceptance by Mikhail Gorbachev of domestic reforms and collapse of the
Soviet empire in Eastern Europe.33
At this point, constructivism is less a theory than an approach. It has been used to analyze
the origins, development, and consequences of norms and cultures in a broad range of
settings.34 It might offer an especially fruitful contribution to the persisting debates, described
below, on the democratic peace thesis. The constructivist approach is of relatively recent
vintage, but it bears considerable resemblance to the venerable social science dictum that we all
perceive our environment through the lenses of belief systems, and thus that, It is what we
think the world is like, not what it is really like, that determines our behavior.35 This also
illustrates the tendency for each generation of political scientists to reinvent, if not the whole
wheel, at least some parts of it.
Decision Making
Many advocates of realism recognize that it cannot offer fine-grained analyses of foreign
policy behavior and, as noted earlier, Waltz denies that it is desirable or even possible to
combine theories of international relations and foreign policy. Decision-making models
challenge the premises that it is fruitful to conceptualize the nation as a unitary rational actor
whose behavior can adequately be explained by reference to the system structure–the second,
fourth, and fifth realist propositions identified earlier–because individuals, groups, and
organizations acting in the name of the state are also sensitive to domestic pressures and
constraints, including elite maintenance, electoral politics, public opinion, interests groups,
ideological preferences, and bureaucratic politics. Such core concepts as “the national interest”
are not defined solely by the international system, much less by its structure alone, but they are
also likely to reflect elements within the domestic political arena. Thus, rather than assuming
with the realists that the state can be conceptualized as a “black box”–that the domestic
political processes are unnecessary for explaining the sources of its external behavior–decisionmaking analysts believe one must indeed take these internal processes into account, with special
attention directed at policymakers.
At the broadest level of analyses within the black box, the past two decades have
witnessed a burgeoning literature and heated controversies on the democratic peace, arising
from the finding that, while democracies are no less likely to engage in wars, they do not fight
each other.36 The literature is far too vast to discuss in any detail in this brief essay. Some of
the debate is about minutiae (does Britain’s pro forma declaration of war on Finland during
World War II constitute a crucial disconfirming case?), but parts of it engage such central issues
as the role of institutions (transparent policymaking) in allaying fears of perfidy or of norms
(the culture of compromise) in reducing or eliminating wars between democracies. Suffice it to
say that proponents and critics of democratic peace thesis line up mostly along realist-liberal
lines. The democratic peace thesis is especially troubling to realists for at least three reasons. It
runs counter to a long tradition, espoused by Alexis de Tocqueville, Hans Morgenthau, George
Kennan, Walter Lippmann, Henry Kissinger, and other notable realists, that depicts
democracies as seriously disadvantaged in conducting foreign affairs. Moreover, the thesis
democracies may behave differently directly challenges a core premise of structural realism. As
Waltz notes, If the democratic peace thesis is right, structural realist theory is wrong.37 At the
policy level, few realists are comfortable with espousal by the first Bush and Clinton
administrations of democracy promotion abroad as a vital goal of American diplomacy, at
least at the rhetorical level, usually denouncing it as an invitation to hopeless crusading, or as
international social work worthy of Mother Theresa but not of the worlds sole superpower.38
To reconstruct how nations deal with each other, it is necessary to view the situation
through the eyes of those who act in the name of the state: decision makers and the group and
bureaucratic-organizational contexts within which they act. Table 2 provides an overview of
three major types of decision-making models, beginning with the bureaucratic-organizational
Bureaucratic and organizational politics
Traditional models of complex organizations and bureaucracy emphasized the benefits
of a division of labor, hierarchy, and centralization, coupled with expertise, rationality, and
obedience. They also assumed that clear boundaries should be maintained between politics and
decision making, on the one hand, and administration and implementation on the other.
Following pioneering works by Chester Barnard, Herbert Simon and James March, and others,
more recent theories depict organizations quite differently.40 The central premise is that
decision making in bureaucratic organizations is not constrained only by the legal and formal
norms that are intended to enhance the rational and eliminate the capricious aspects of
bureaucratic behavior. There is an emphasis upon rather than a denial of the political character
of bureaucracies, as well as on other “informal” aspects of organizational behavior. Complex
organizations are composed of individuals and units with conflicting perceptions, values, and
interests that may arise from parochial self-interest (“what is best for my bureau is also best for
my career”), and also from different perceptions of issues arising ineluctably from a division of
labor (where you stand depends on where you sit”). Organizational norms and memories,
prior policy commitments, inertia, and standard operating procedures may shape and perhaps
distort the structuring of problems, channeling of information, use of expertise, the range of
options that may be considered, and implementation of executive decisions. Consequently,
organizational decision making is essentially political in character, dominated by bargaining for
resources, roles and missions, and by compromise rather than analysis.41
An ample literature of case studies on budgeting, weapons acquisitions, military doctrine,
and similar situations confirms that foreign and defense policy bureaucracies rarely conform to
the Weberian ideal type” of rational organization.42 Some analysts assert that crises may
provide the motivation and means for reducing some of the nonrational aspects of bureaucratic
behavior: crises are likely to push decisions to the top of the organization where a higher quality
of intelligence is available; information is more likely to enter the top of the hierarchy directly,
reducing the distorting effects of information processing through several levels of the
organization; and broader, less parochial values may be invoked. Short decision time in crises
reduces the opportunities for decision making by bargaining, log rolling, incrementalism,
lowest-common-denominator values, muddling through,” and the like.43
Even studies of international crises from a bureaucratic-organizational perspective,
however, are not uniformly sanguine about decision making in such circumstances. Graham
Allison’s analysis of the Cuban missile crisis identified several critical bureaucratic
malfunctions concerning dispersal of American aircraft in Florida, the location of the naval
blockade, and grounding of weather-reconnaissance flights from Alaska that might stray over
the USSR. Richard Neustadt’s study of two crises involving the United States and Great Britain
revealed significant misperceptions of each other’s interests and policy processes. And an
examination of three American nuclear alerts found substantial gaps in understanding and
communication between policymakers and the military leaders who were responsible for
implementing the alerts.44
Critics of some organizational-bureaucratic models have directed their attention to several
points.45 They assert, for instance, that the emphasis on bureaucratic bargaining fails to
differentiate adequately between the positions of the participants. In the American system, the
president is not just another player in a complex bureaucratic game. Not only must he
ultimately decide but he also selects who the other players will be, a process that may be
crucial in shaping the ultimate decisions. If General Matthew Ridgway and Attorney General
Robert Kennedy played key roles in the American decisions not to intervene in Indochina in
1954 and not to bomb or invade Cuba in 1962, it was because Presidents Eisenhower and
Kennedy chose to accept their advice rather than that of other officials. Also, the conception of
bureaucratic bargaining tends to emphasize its nonrational elements to the exclusion of genuine
intellectual differences that may be rooted in broader concerns, including disagreements on
what national interests, if any, are at stake in a situation. Indeed, properly managed, decision
processes that promote and legitimize “multiple advocacy among officials may facilitate highquality decisions.46
These models may be especially useful for understanding the slippage between
executive decisions and foreign policy actions that may arise during implementation, but they
may be less valuable for explaining the decisions themselves. Allison’s study of the Cuban
missile crisis does not indicate an especially strong correlation between bureaucratic roles and
evaluations of the situation or policy recommendations, as predicted by his “Model III”
(bureaucratic politics), and recently published transcripts of deliberations during the crisis do
not offer more supporting evidence for that model.47 Yet Allison does present some compelling
evidence concerning policy implementation that casts considerable doubt on the adequacy of
traditional realist conceptions of the unitary rational actor.
Small group politics
Another decision-making model used by some political scientists supplements
bureaucratic-organizational models by narrowing the field of view to foreign policy decisions
within small-group contexts. Some analysts have drawn upon sociology and social psychology
to assess the impact of various types of group dynamics on decision making.48 Underlying
these models are the premises that the group is not merely the sum of its members (thus
decisions emerging from the group are likely to be different from what a simple aggregation of
individual preferences and abilities might suggest), and that group dynamics can have a
significant impact on the substance and quality of decisions.
Groups often perform better than individuals in coping with complex tasks owing to
diverse perspectives and talents, an effective division of labor, and high-quality debates on
definitions of the situation and prescriptions for dealing with it. Groups may also provide
decision-makers with emotional and other types of support that may facilitate coping with
complex problems. Conversely, they may exert pressures for conformity to group norms,
thereby inhibiting the search for information and policy options, ruling out the legitimacy of
some options, curtailing independent evaluation, and suppressing some forms of intragroup
conflict that might serve to clarify goals, values, and options. Classic experiments have
revealed the extent to which group members will suppress their beliefs and judgments when
faced with a majority adhering to the contrary view, even a counterfactual one.49
Drawing on historical case studies, social psychologist Irving Janis has identified a
different variant of group dynamics, which he labels “groupthink” to distinguish it from the
more familiar type of conformity pressure on “deviant” members of the group.50 Janis
challenges the conventional wisdom that strong cohesion among group members invariably
enhances performance. Under certain conditions, strong cohesion can markedly degrade the
group’s performance in decision making. Members of a cohesive group may, as a means of
dealing with the stresses of having to cope with consequential problems and in order to bolster
self-esteem, increase the frequency and intensity of , resulting in greater
identification with the group and less competition within it; “concurrence seeking” may
displace or erode reality-testing and sound information processing and judgment. As a
consequence, groups may be afflicted by unwarranted feelings of optimism and invulnerability,
stereotyped images of adversaries, and inattention to warnings. Janis’s analyses of both
“successful” (the Marshall Plan, the Cuban missile crisis) and “unsuccessful” (Munich
Conference of 1938, Pearl Harbor, the Bay of Pigs invasion) cases indicate that “groupthink” or
other decision-making pathologies are not inevitable, and he develops some guidelines for
avoiding them.51
Individual leaders
Still other decision-making analysts focus on the individual policymaker, emphasizing the
gap between the demands of the classical model of rational decision making and the substantial
body of theory and evidence about various constraints that come into play in even relatively
simple choice situations.52 Drawing upon cognitive psychology, these models go well beyond
some of the earlier formulations that drew upon psychodynamic theories to identify various
types of psychopathologies among political leaders: paranoia, authoritarianism, the
displacement of private motives on public objects, etc.53 Efforts to include informationprocessing behavior of the individual decision maker have been directed at the cognitive and
motivational constraints that, in varying degrees, affect the decision-making performance of
“normal” rather than pathological subjects. Thus, attention is directed to all leaders, not merely
those, such as Hitler or Stalin, who display symptoms of clinical abnormalities.
Many challenges to the classical model have focused on limited human capabilities for
objectively rational decision making. The cognitive constraints on rationality include limits on
the individual’s capacity to receive, process, and assimilate information about the situation; an
inability to identify the entire set of policy alternatives; fragmentary knowledge about the
consequences of each option; and an inability to order preferences on a single utility scale.54
These have given rise to several competing conceptions of the decision maker and his or her
strategies for dealing with complexity, uncertainty, incomplete or contradictory information
and, paradoxically, information overload. They variously characterize the decision maker as a
problem solver, naive or intuitive scientist, cognitive balancer, dissonance avoider, information
seeker, cybernetic information processor, and reluctant decision maker.
Three of these conceptions seem especially relevant for foreign policy analysis. The
first views the decision-maker as a “bounded rationalist” who seeks satisfactory rather than
optimal solutions. As Herbert Simon has put it, “the capacity of the human mind for
formulating and solving complex problems is very small compared with the size of the problem
whose solution is required for objectively rational behavior in the real world–or even a
reasonable approximation of such objective rationality.55 Moreover, it is not practical for the
decision maker to seek optimal choices; for example, because of the costs of searching for
information. Related to this is the concept of the individual as a “cognitive miser,” one who
seeks to simplify complex problems and to find short cuts to problem solving.
Another approach is to look at the decision-maker as an “error prone intuitive scientist”
who is likely to commit a broad range of inferential mistakes. Thus, rather than emphasizing
the limits on search, information processing, and the like, this conception views the decision
maker as the victim of flawed decision rules who uses data poorly. There are tendencies to
underuse rate data in making judgments, believe in the “law of small numbers,” underuse
diagnostic information, overweight low probabilities and underweight high ones, and violate
other requirements of consistency and coherence.56
The final perspective emphasizes the forces that dominate the policymaker, forces that will
not or cannot be controlled.57 Decision-makers are not merely rational calculators; important
decisions generate conflict, and a reluctance to make irrevocable choices often results in
behavior that reduces the quality of decisions. These models direct the analyst’s attention to
policymakers’ belief systems, images of relevant actors, perceptions, information-processing
strategies, heuristics, certain personality traits (ability to tolerate ambiguity, cognitive
complexity, etc.), and their impact on decision-making performance.
Despite this diversity of perspectives and the difficulty of choosing between cognitive and
motivational models, there has been some convergence on several types of constraints that may
affect decision processes.58 One involves the consequences of efforts to achieve cognitive
consistency on perceptions and information processing. Several kinds of systematic bias have
been identified in both experimental and historical studies. Policymakers have a propensity to
assimilate and interpret information in ways that conform to rather than challenge existing
beliefs, preferences, hopes, and expectations. They may deny the need to confront tradeoffs
between values by persuading themselves that an option will satisfy all of them, and indulge in
rationalizations to bolster the selected option while denigrating others.
A comparison of a pair of two-term conservative Republican presidents may be used to
illustrate the point about coping with tradeoffs. Both came to office vowing to improve
national security policy and to balance the federal budget. President Eisenhower, recognizing
the tradeoff between these goals, pursued security policies that reduced defense expenditures–
for example, the New Look policy that placed greater reliance on nuclear weapons, and
alliance policies that permitted maintenance of global commitments at lower cost. Despite
widespread demands for vastly increased defense spending after the Soviet space capsule
Sputnik was successfully placed in orbit around the earth, Eisenhower refused to give in;
indeed, he left office famously warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
The result was a period of balanced budgets in which surpluses in some years offset deficits in
others. In contrast, President Reagan denied any tradeoffs between defense expenditures and
budget deficits by positing that major tax cuts would stimulate the economy to produce
increases in government revenues. The results proved otherwise as the Reagan years were
marked by annual deficits ranging between $79 billion and $221 billion.
An extensive literature on styles of attribution has revealed several types of systematic bias.
Perhaps the most important for foreign policy is the basic attribution error–a tendency to
explain the adversary’s behavior in terms of his characteristics (for example, inherent
aggressiveness or hostility) rather then in terms of the context or situation, while attributing
one’s own behavior to the latter (for example, legitimate security needs arising from a
dangerous and uncertain environment) rather than to the former. A somewhat related type of
double standard has been noted by George Kennan: “Now is it our view that we should take
account only of their [Soviet] capabilities, disregarding their intentions, but we should expect
them to take account only of our supposed intentions, disregarding our capabilities?”59
Analysts also have illustrated the effect on decisions of policymakers’ assumptions about
order and predictability in the environment. Whereas a policymaker may have an acute
appreciation of the disorderly environment in which he or she operates (arising, for example,
from domestic political processes), there is a tendency to assume that others, especially
adversaries, are free of such constraints. Graham Allison, Robert Jervis, and others have
demonstrated that decision makers tend to believe that the realist “unitary rational actor” is the
appropriate representation of the opponent’s decision processes and, thus, whatever happens is
the direct result of deliberate choices.60
Several models linking crisis-induced stress to decision processes have been developed
and used in foreign policy studies.61 Irving Janis and Leon Mann have developed a more
general conflict-theory model that conceives of man as a “reluctant decision maker” and focuses
upon “when, how and why psychological stress generated by decisional conflict imposes
limitations on the rationality of a person’s decisions.”62 One may employ five strategies for
coping with a situation requiring a decision: unconflicted adherence to existing policy,
unconflicted change, defensive avoidance, hypervigilance, and vigilant decision making. The
first four strategies are likely to yield low-quality decisions owing to an incomplete search for
information, appraisal of the situation and options, and contingency planning, whereas vigilant
decision making, characterized by a more adequate performance of vital tasks, is more likely to
result in a high quality choice. The factors that will affect the employment of decision styles
are information about risks, expectations of finding a better option, and time for adequate
search and deliberation.
A final approach we should consider attempts to show the impact of personal traits on
decision making. Typologies that are intended to link leadership traits to decision-making
behavior abound, but systematic research demonstrating such links is in much shorter supply.
Still, some efforts have borne fruit. Margaret Hermann has developed a scheme for analyzing
leaders’ public statements of unquestioned authorship for eight variables: nationalism, belief in
one’s ability to control the environment, need for power, need for affiliation, ability to
differentiate environments, distrust of others, self-confidence, and task emphasis. The scheme
has been tested with impressive results on a broad range of contemporary leaders.63 Alexander
George has reformulated Nathan Leites’s concept of “operational code” into five philosophical
and five instrumental beliefs that are intended to describe politically relevant core beliefs,
stimulating a number of empirical studies and, more recently, further significant conceptual
revisions.64 Finally, several psychologists have developed and tested the concept of “integrative
complexity,” defined as the ability to make subtle distinction along multiple dimensions,
flexibility, and the integration of large amounts of diverse information to make coherent
judgments.65 A standard content analysis technique has been used for research on documentary
materials generated by top decision makers in a wide range of international crises.66
Decision-making approaches permit the analyst to overcome many limitations of the
systemic models described earlier, but they also impose increasingly heavy data burdens on the
analyst. Moreover, there is a danger that adding levels of analysis may result in an
undisciplined proliferation of categories and variables. It may then become increasingly
difficult to determine which are more or less important, and ad hoc explanations for individual
cases erode the possibilities for broader generalizations across cases. Several well-designed,
multicase, decision-making studies, however, indicate that these and other traps are not
Post-modern challenges
The field of international relations has gone through three great debates during the past
century. The first, pitting the venerable realist tradition against various challengers, was
summarized above. The second, centered on disagreements about the virtues and limitations of
quantification (if you cant count it, it doesnt count versus if you can count it, that aint it)
and, more recently, on formal modeling. Although those arguments persist in various guises,
they have been bypassed in this essay.
The most recent debate, in many respects the most fundamental of the three, is the postmodern challenges to all of the theories and models described above.68 The intellectual
foundations of post-modernism are largely in the humanities, but the current debates extend
well beyond issues of humanistic versus social science perspectives on world politics. They are
rooted in epistemology: what can we know? Rather than addressing the validity of specific
variables, levels of analysis, or methodologies, most post-modernists challenges the premise
that the social world constitutes an objective, knowable reality that is amenable to systematic
description and analysis.
Although realism has been a prime target, all existing theories and methodologies are in the
cross-hairs of post-modern critics who, as Pauline Rosenau noted, soundly and swiftly dismiss
international political economy, realism (and neorealism), regime theory, game theory, rational
actor models, integration theory, transnational approaches, world system analysis and the liberal
tradition in general.69 Nor are any of the conventional methodologies employed by political
scientists or diplomatic historians spared.
Some versions of post-modernism label evidence and truth as meaningless concepts,
and they are critical of categories, classification, generalization, and conclusions. Nor is there
any objective language by which knowledge can be transmitted; the choice of language
unjustifiably grants privileged positions to one perspective or another. Thus, the task of the
observer is to deconstruct texts (everything is a text). Each one creates a unique reading
of the matter under consideration, none can ultimately be deemed superior to any other, and
there are no guidelines for choosing among them.
Taken at face value, the ability of these post-modernist perspectives to shed light on the
central issues of world affairs seems problematic, and thus their contributions to either political
science or diplomatic history would appear to be quite modest. Indeed, they appear to
undermine the foundations of both undertakings, eliminating conventional research methods
and aspirations for the cumulation of knowledge. Moreover, if one rejects the feasibility of
research standards because they necessarily privilege some theories or methodologies, does
that not also rule out judgments of works by Holocaust deniers or of conspiracy buffs who
write, for example, about the Kennedy assassination or the Pearl Harbor attack?
Even more moderate versions of post-modernism are skeptical of theories and methods
based on reason and Western logic, but works of this genre have occasionally offered insightful
critiques of conventional theories, methodologies and concepts.70 The proclivity of more than a
few political scientists for reifying a false image of the scientific method and for overlooking
the pervasiveness of less elegant methodologies offers an inviting target. However, such
thoughtful critical analyses are certainly not the unique province of post-modern authors;
critiques of naive perspectives on scientific methods, for example, have abounded in political
science and history journals for several decades.
Finally, most post-modernists are highly critical of other approaches because they have
failed to come up with viable solutions for mankinds most pressing problems, including war,
poverty, and oppression. Though some progress has been made on all these fronts, not even a
modern-day Pangloss would declare victory on any of them. But what does post-modernist
nihilism offer along these lines? Jarvis makes the point nicely:
In what sense, however, can this approach [post-modernism] be at all
adequate for the subject of International Relations? What, for example, do
the literary devices of irony and textuality say to Somalian refugees who flee
from famine and warlords or to Ethiopian rebels who fight in the desert plains
against a government in Addis Ababa? How does the notion of textual
deconstruction speak to Serbs, Croats, and Muslims who fight one another
among the ruins of the former Yugoslavia? How do totalitarian narratives or
logocentric binary logic feature in the deliberation of policy bureaucrats or in
negotiations over international trade or the formulation of international law?
Should those concerned with human rights or those who take it upon
themselves to study relationships between nation-states begin by
contemplating epistemological fiats and ontological disputes?71
Quite aside from the emptiness of its message for those with a concern to improving the human
condition, the stylistic wretchedness of most post-modern prose ensures that it will have scant
impact on the real world.
The study of international relations and foreign policy has always been an eclectic
undertaking, with extensive borrowing from disciplines other than political science and
history72 At the most general level, the primary differences today tend to be between two broad
approaches. Analysts of the first school focus on the structure of the international system, often
borrowing from economics for models, analogies, insights, and metaphors, with an emphasis on
rational preferences and strategy and how these tend to be shaped and constrained by the
structure of the international system. Decision-making analysts, meanwhile, display a concern
for internal political processes and tend to borrow from psychology and social psychology in
order to understand better the limits and barriers to information processing and rational choice.
For many purposes both approaches are necessary and neither is sufficient. Neglect of the
system structure and its constraints may result in analyses that depict policymakers as relatively
free agents with an almost unrestricted menu of choices, limited only by the scope of their
ambitions and the resources at their disposal. At worst, this type of analysis can degenerate into
Manichean explanations that depict foreign policies of the “bad guys” as the external
manifestation of inherently flawed leaders or domestic structures, whereas the “good guys” only
react from necessity.
Conversely, neglect of foreign policy decision making not only leaves one unable to
explain fully the dynamics of international relations, but many important aspects of a nation’s
external behavior will be inexplicable. Advocates of the realist model have often argued its
superiority for understanding the “high” politics of deterrence, containment, alliances, crises,
and wars, if not necessarily for “low” politics. But there are several rejoinders to this line of
reasoning. First, the low politics of trade, currencies, and other issues that are usually sensitive
to domestic pressures are becoming an increasingly important element of international relations.
The George W. Bush administration came into office vowing to replace the mushy policies of
its predecessor with hard headed realism based on self-defined national interests. Yet its
actions have shown a consistent willingness to subordinate those interests to those of such
favored domestic constituencies as the energy, steel and soft lumber industries, and the National
Rifle Association. Second, the growing literature on the putative domain par excellence of
realism, including deterrence, crises, and wars, raises substantial doubts about the universal
validity of the realist model even for these issues.73 Finally, exclusive reliance on realist
models and their assumptions of rationality may lead to unwarranted complacency about
dangers in the international system. Nuclear weapons and other features of the system have no
doubt contributed to the “long peace” between major powers.74 At the same time, however, a
narrow focus on power balances, “correlations of forces,” and other features of the international
system will result in neglect of dangers–for example, the command, communication, control,
intelligence problem or inadequate information processing–that can only be identified and
analyzed by a decision-making perspective.75
At a very general level, this conclusion parallels that drawn three decades ago by the
foremost contemporary proponent of modern realism: The third image (system structure) is
necessary for understanding the context of international behavior, whereas the first and second
images (decision makers and domestic political processes) are needed to understand dynamics
within the system.76 But to acknowledge the existence of various levels of analysis is not
enough. What the investigator wants to explain and the level of specificity and
comprehensiveness to be sought should determine which level(s) of analysis are relevant and
necessary. In this connection, it is essential to distinguish between two different dependent
variables: foreign policy decisions by states, on the one hand, and the outcomes of policy and
interactions between two or more states, on the other. Political scientists studying international
relations are increasingly disciplining their use of multiple levels of analysis in studying
outcomes that cannot be adequately explained via only a single level of analysis.77
A renowned diplomatic historian asserted that most theories of international relations
flunked a critical test by failing to forecast the end of the Cold War.78 The end of the Cold War
has also led some theorists to look outside the social sciences and humanities for appropriate
metaphors and models, but these are beyond the scope of the present essay.79 This conclusion
speculates on the related question of how well the theories discussed above might help political
scientists and historians understand global relations in the post-Cold War world. Dramatic
events since the late 1980s have posed serious challenges to several of the system level theories,
but we should be wary of writing premature obituaries for any of them, or engaging in naive
(single case) falsification. Further, in 2002, only a little more than a decade after
disintegration of the Soviet Union and less than a year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some
caution about declaring that major events and trends are irreversible seems warranted.
The global society/complex interdependence/liberal institutionalism theories have fared
relatively better than either structural realism or various Marxist theories. For example,
creation of the World Trade Organization and progress toward economic unification of Europe,
although not without detours and setbacks, would appear to provide significant support for the
view that, even in an anarchic world, major powers may find that it is in their self-interest to
establish and maintain institutions for cooperating and overcoming the constraints of the
relative gains problem. Woodrow Wilsons thesis that a world of democratic nations will be
more peaceful has also enjoyed some revival, at least among analysts who attach significance to
the fact that democratic nations have been able to establish zones of peace among themselves.
Wilsons diagnosis that self-determination also supports peace may be correct in the abstract,
but universal application of that principle is neither feasible nor desirable, if only because it
would result in immense bloodshed; the peaceful divorces of Norway and Sweden in 1905 and
of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992 are unfortunately not the norm.80 Although it
appears that economic interests have come to dominate nationalist, ethnic, or religious passions
among most industrial democracies, the evidence is far less assuring in other areas, including
parts of the former Soviet Union, Central Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
Recent events appear to have created an especially difficult challenge for structural realism;
although it provides a parsimonious and elegant theory, its deficiencies are likely to become
more rather than less apparent in the post-Cold War world. Its weaknesses in dealing with
questions of system change and in specifying policy preferences other than survival and security
are likely to be magnified. Moreover, whereas classical realism includes some attractive
prescriptive features (caution, humility, warnings against mistaking ones preferences for the
moral laws of the universe), neorealism is an especially weak source of policy-relevant theory.
Indeed, some of the prescriptions put forward by neo-realists, such as letting Germany join the
nuclear club, or urging Ukraine to keep its nuclear weapons seem reckless.81 In addition to
European economic cooperation, specific events that seem inexplicable by structural realism
include Soviet acquiescence in the collapse of its empire and peaceful transformation of the
system structure. The persistence of NATO, more than a decade after disappearance of the
threat that gave rise to its creation, has also confounded realist predictions that it would not
long survive the end of the Cold War; in 1993, Waltz asserted: NATOs days are not
numbered, but its years are.82 The problem cannot be resolved by definition: asserting that
NATO is no longer an alliance because its original adversary has collapsed. Nor can the theory
be saved by a tautology: claiming that the Cold War ended, exactly as predicted by structural
realism, only when the bipolar structure of the world disappeared.83 These developments are
especially telling because structural realism is explicitly touted as a theory of major powers.
Although proponents of realism are not ready to concede that events of the past decade have
raised some serious questions about its validity, as distinguished a realist is Robert Tucker has
characterized structural realism as more questionable than ever.84
More importantly, even though the possibility of war among major powers cannot be
dismissed and proliferation may place nuclear weapons into the hands of leaders with little
stake in maintaining the status quo, national interests and even conceptions of national security
have increasingly come to be defined in ways that transcend the power balances that lie at the
core of structural realism. The expanded agenda of national interests, combined with the trend
toward greater democracy in many parts of the world, suggests that we are entering an era in
which the relative potency of systemic and domestic forces in shaping and constraining
international affairs is moving toward the latter. The frequency of internal wars that have
become international conflicts–the list includes but is not limited to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia,
Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, and several parts of the former Yugoslavia–suggests that failed
states may compete with international aggression as the major source of war.85 Such issues as
trade, immigration, the environment, and others, can be expected to enhance the impact of
domestic actors–including legislatures, public opinion, and ethnic, religious, economic, and
perhaps even regional interest groups–while reducing the ability of executives to dominate the
process on the grounds, so frequently invoked during times of war and crises, that the adept
pursuit of national interests requires secrecy, flexibility, and the ability to act with speed on the
basis of classified information.
If that prognosis is anywhere near the mark, it should enhance the value of decisionmaking models, some of which were discussed above, that encompass domestic political
processes. Whatever their strengths and weaknesses, these models seem less vulnerable to such
major events as the end of the Cold War. Most policymaking will continue to be made by
leaders in small groups, with supports and constraints from bureaucracies. Moreover, even if
nation-states are having to share the global center stage with a plethora of non-state actors,
decision-making concepts such as information processing, satisficing, bureaucratic politics,
groupthink, and many of the others described above can be applied equally well to the World
Trade Organization, NATO, OPEC, and the like.
Which of these models and approaches are likely to be of interest and utility to the
diplomatic historian? Clearly there is no one answer: political scientists are unable to agree on
a single multilevel approach to international relations and foreign policy; thus they are hardly in
a position to offer a single recommendation to historians. In the absence of the often-sought but
always-elusive unified theory of human behavior that could provide a model for all seasons and
all reasons, one must ask at least one further question: a model for what purpose? For example,
in some circumstances, such as research on major international crises, it may be important to
obtain systematic evidence on the beliefs and other intellectual baggage that key policymakers
bring to their deliberations. Some of the approaches described above should prove very helpful
in this respect. Conversely, there are many other research problems for which the historian
would quite properly decide that this type of analysis requires far more effort than could
possibly be justified by the benefits to be gained.
Of the systemic approaches described here, little needs to be said about classical realism
because its main features, as well as its strengths and weaknesses, are familiar to most
diplomatic historians. Those who focus on security issues can hardly neglect its central
premises and concepts. Waltzs version of structural realism is likely to have more limited
appeal to historians, especially if they take seriously his doubts about being able to incorporate
foreign policy into it. It may perhaps serve to raise consciousness about the importance of the
systemic context within which international relations take place, but that may not be a major
gain; after all, such concepts as “balance of power” have long been a standard part of the
diplomatic historian’s vocabulary.
The Global-Society/Complex-Interdependence/Liberal Institutionalism models will be
helpful to historians with an interest in the evolution of the international system and with the
growing disjuncture between demands on states and their ability to meet them, the “sovereignty
gap.” One need not be very venturesome to predict that this gap will grow rather than narrow.
Historians of international and transnational organizations are also likely to find useful concepts
and insights in these models.
It is much less clear that the Marxist/World System/Dependency theories will provide
useful new insights to historians. If one has difficulty in accepting certain assumptions as true
by definition–for example, that there has been and is today a single “world capitalist system”–
then the kinds of analyses that follow are likely to seem flawed. Most diplomatic historians
also would have difficulty in accepting models that relegate the state to a secondary role.
Finally, whereas proponents of GS/CI/LI models can point with considerable justification to
current events and trends that would appear to make them more rather than less relevant in the
future, supporters of the M/WS/D models have a much more difficult task in this respect. The
declining legitimacy of Marxism-Leninism as the basis for government does not, of course,
necessarily invalidate social science theories that draw upon Marx, Lenin, and their intellectual
heirs. It might, however, at least be the occasion for second thoughts, especially because Marx
and his followers have always placed a heavy emphasis on an intimate connection between
theory and practice.
Although the three decision-making models sometimes include jargon that may be jarring
to the historian, many of the underlying concepts are familiar. Much of diplomatic history has
traditionally focused on the decisions, actions, and interactions of national leaders who operate
in group contexts, such as cabinets or ad hoc advisory groups, and who draw upon the resources
of such bureaucracies as foreign and defense ministries or the armed forces. The three types of
models described above typically draw heavily upon psychology, social psychology,
organizational theory, and other social sciences; thus for the historian they open some important
windows to these fields. For example, theories and concepts of information processing” by
individuals, groups, and organizations should prove very useful.
Decision-making models may also appeal to diplomatic historians for another important
reason. Political scientists who are accustomed to working with fairly accessible hard
information such as figures on gross national products, defense budgets, battle casualties,
alliance commitments, UN votes, trade, investments, and the like, often feel that the data
requirements of decision-making models are excessive. This is precisely the area in which the
historian has a decided comparative advantage, for the relevant data are usually to be found in
the paper or electronic trails left by policymakers, and they are most likely to be unearthed by
archival research. For purposes of organization this essay has focused on some major
distinctions between theoretical perspectives. This should not be read, however, as ruling out
efforts to build bridges between them, as urged in several recent essays.86
Perhaps the appropriate point on which to conclude this essay is to reverse the question
posed earlier: Ask not only what can the political scientist contribute to the diplomatic historian
but ask also what can the diplomatic historian contribute to the political scientist. At the very
least political scientists could learn a great deal about the validity of their own models if
historians would use them and offer critical assessments of their strengths and limitations.
A Note on Sources
Contributions to and debates about theories of international relations take place within both
books and journals. While it is impossible to forecast the books that may, in the future, be
useful in this respect, it may be helpful to identify some journals that are likely to be especially
fruitful sources of theoretical developments and controversies. This list is limited to U.S.-based
journals. Many others published in Europe, Japan, Israel, South Korea and elsewhere may also
include relevant articles.
The top mainline political science journals include American Political Science Review,
Journal of Politics, and American Journal of Political Science. APSR has published some
major articles in international relations and foreign policy, especially in recent years, and each
issue has a section devoted to book reviews. However, all three of these journals tend to place
greater emphasis on American politics. That is especially true of JP and AJPS.
International Organization, International Security, International Studies Quarterly,
Journal of Conflict Resolution, Security Studies, and World Politics are the most important
sources of articles that bear on theoretical issues. Many of the authors are political scientists,
but diplomatic historians, economists, sociologists and other social scientists are also frequently
represented on their pages. These journals are indispensable for anyone interested in following
theoretical developments and debates. Of the six, only World Politics regularly features
extended book reviews.
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy are largely focused on current affairs, but on occasion
essays in these journals have been authored by major contributors to current debates about
theoretical issues. Both include book reviews, but they are often relatively brief.
The best source of book reviews is International Studies Reviews, which, along with
International Studies Quarterly, is a publication of the International Studies Association. It
features both extended review essays and shorter critical assessments of single books. ISR
regularly includes reviews of books published in languages other than English.
Table 1. Four models of the international system
Realism Global Society Marxism Constructivism
Type of model Classical: descriptive
Modern: deductive
Descriptive and normative Descriptive and normative Descriptive and
Central problems Causes of war
Conditions of peace
Broad agenda of social,
economic, and
issues arising
from gap
demands and
Inequality and
Uneven development
Content, sources, and
consequences of
state identities
and interests
Conception of current
Structural anarchy
Structure conceived
in terms of
Global society
Complex interdependence
(structure varies
by issue-area)
World capitalist system
Structure conceived in
terms of material
Environment in which
states take
action is social
as well as
material; the
social gives
meaning to the
material world
Key actors Geographically based
units (tribes, citystates, sovereign
states, etc.)
Highly permeable states
plus a broad
range of nonstate actors,
including IOs,
and individuals
Classes and their agents States with socially
identities and
Central motivations National interest
Security and a wider
range of human
needs and wants
Class interests Different rather than
Interests based
on identities
rather than fixed
by structures
Loyalties To geographically
groups (from
tribes to
Loyalties to state may be
To emerging global
norms, values
and institutions
and/or to subnational groups
To class values and
interests that
transcend those
of the state
To states, at least for the
Central processes Search for security
and survival
Aggregate effects of
decisions by
national and nonModes of production and
International division of
Actors behave on the
basis of socially
national actors
How units (not limited to
cope with a
growing agenda
of threats and
arising from
human wants
labor in a world
capitalist system
identities and
Likelihood of system
Low (basic structural
elements of
system have
revealed an
ability to
many other
kinds of
Moderate in the direction
of the model
(owing to the
rapid pace of
change, etc.)
High in the direction of
the model (owing
to inherent
within the world
capitalist system)
Indeterminate; change in
social identities
is both possible
and difficult
Sources of theory,
insights, and
Broad range of social
Natural and technological
Marxist-Leninist theory
(several variants)
Social psychology
Table 2. Three models of decision making
decision making
Conceptualization of
decision making
Decision making as the
result of bargaining
within bureaucratic
Decision making as the
product of group
Decision making as the
result of
individual choice
Premises Central organizational
values are
Organizational behavior is
political behavior
Structure and SOPs affect
substance and
quality of decisions
Most decisions are made
by small elite
Group is different than the
sum of its
Group dynamics affect
substance and
quality of
Importance of subjective
(definition of the
situation) and
processing, etc.)
Constraints on rational
decision making
Imperfect information,
resulting from:
hierarchy, and
Organizational inertia
Conflict between individual
and organizational
Bureaucratic politics and
dominate decision
making and
implementation of
Groups may be more
effective for some
tasks, less for
Pressures for conformity
Risk-taking propensity of
Quality of leadership
Cognitive limits on
Information processing
distorted by
Systematic and motivated
biases in causal
Individual differences in
abilities related to
decision making
(e.g., problemsolving ability,
tolerance of
defensiveness and
seeking, etc.)
Cognitive dissonance
Sources of theory,
insights, and
Organization theory
Sociology of bureaucracies
Bureaucratic politics
Social psychology
Sociology of small groups
Cognitive psychology
Dynamic psychology

See, for example, John Lewis Gaddis, Expanding the Data Base: Historians, Political Scientists, and the
Enrichment of Security Studies, International Security 12 (Summer 1987): 3-21; John English, The Second Time
Around: Political Scientists Writing History, Canadian Historical Review 57 (March 1986): 1-16; Jack S. Levy,
Domestic Politics and War, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (Spring 1988): 653-73; Deborah Welch
Larson, Origins of Containment: A Psychological Explanation (Princeton, 1985); Timothy Lomperis, The War
Everyone Lost–and Won: Americas Intervention in Viet Nams Twin Struggles (Washington, 1987); Barry Posen,
The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany between the World Wars (Ithaca, 1984); Paul
Gordon Lauren, ed., Diplomacy: New Approaches to History, Theory, and Policy (New York, 1979); Richard R.
Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Use of History for Decision-Makers (New York, 1986); Irving
L. Janis, Crucial Decisions: Leadership in Policymaking and Crisis Management (New York, 1989); K. J. Holsti,
The State, War, and the State of War (Cambridge, 1996); Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, Essence of
Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd edition (New York, 1999); Douglas C. Foyle, Counting the
Public In: Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy (New York, 1999); Colin Elman and Miriam Fendius
Elman, editors, Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists and the Study of International Relations
(Cambridge, 2000); and G. John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and Rebuilding of
Order after Major Wars (Princeton, NJ, 2001).
Robert Gilpin, Change and War in World Politics (Cambridge, England, 1981).
Stanley Hoffmann, An American Social Science: International Relations, Daedalus 106 (Summer 1977): 54.
The British meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson is generally regarded as the pioneer of mathematical approaches
to international relations. See his Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (Pittsburgh, 1960); and his Arms and Insecurity
(Chicago, 1960). These are summarized for nonmathematicians in Anatol Rapport, L. F. Richardsons
Mathematical Theory of War, Journal of Conflict Resolution 1 (September 1957): 249-99. For more recent effort
see Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, The War Trap (New Haven, 1981); idem, The War Trap Revisited: A Revised
Expected Utility Model, American Political Science Review 79 (March 1985): 156-77; Bueno de Mesquita and
David Lalman, War and Reason (New Haven, CT, 1992); a series of articles by Robert Powell in American
Political Science Review; and Michael Brown, et al, editors, Rational Choice and Security Studies: Stephen Walt
and His Critics (Cambridge, 2000).
Among the works that best represent their realist perspectives are E. H. Carr, Twenty Years Crisis (London,
1939); Nicholas Spykman, Americas Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power
(New York, 1942); Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 5th ed. (New
York, 1973); John Herz, International Politics in the Atomic Age (New York, 1959); Hedley Bull, The Anarchical
Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London, 1977); Raymond Aron, Peace and War (Garden City, 1966);
Martin Wight, The Balance of Power and International Order, in The Bases of International Order: Essays in
Honor of C. A. W. Manning, ed. Alan James (London, 1973), 85-115; Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration
(Baltimore, 1962); Norman A. Graebner, America as a World Power: A Realist Appraisal from Wilson to Reagan
(Wilmington, DE, 1984); George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 (Chicago, 1951); Walter
Lippmann, U. S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic (Boston, 1943); and Reinhold Niebuhr, The Children of
Light and the Children of Darkness (New York, 1945).
Morgenthau, Politics, 5,6.
Stephen Krasner, Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investment and U. S. Foreign Policy
(Princeton, 1978), 33.
For an excellent overview of the concept of system, see Robert Jervis, System Effects: Complexity in Political
and Social Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Inis L. Claude, Power and International Relations (New York, 1962); James N. Rosenau, National Interest,
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York, 1968), 11:34-40; Alexander L. George and Robert
Keohane, The Concept of National Interests: Uses and Limitations, in Presidential Decision-Making in Foreign
Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice, ed. Alexander George (Boulder, 1980), 217-37; Ernst B.
Haas, The Balance of Power: Prescription, Concept or Propaganda, World Politics 5 (July 1953): 442-77; Dina
A. Zinnes, An Analytical Study of the Balance of Power, Journal of Peace Research 4:3 (1967): 270-88.
10 Morgenthau, Politics, 5.
11Morton Kaplan, System and Process in International Politics (New York, 1957).
12 Richard Rosecrance, Action and Reaction in International Politics (Boston, 1963); idem, Bipolarity,
Multipolarity, and the Future, Journal of Conflict Resolution 10 (September 1966): 314-27; Kenneth Waltz, The
Stability of a Bipolar World, Daedalus 93 (Summer 1964): 881-909; J. David Singer, Inter-Nation Influence: A
Formal Model, American Political Science Review 57 (June 1963): 420-30; Bruce M. Russett, Toward a Model
of Competitive International Politics, Journal of Politics 25 ( May 1963): 226-47; Karl Deutsch and J. David
Singer, Multipolar Power Systems and International Stability, World Politcs 16 (April 1964): 390-406; Andrew
Scott, The Functioning of the International Political System (New York, 1967).
13 Kenneth Waltz, Theory of International Politics (Reading, MA, 1979); idem, Man, the State, and War (New
York, 1959).
14For a debate on whether neorealism may be extended to cover foreign policies as well as international politics,
see Colin Elman, Horses for Courses: Why Not Neorealist Theories of Foreign Policy, Security Studies 6

(Autumn 1996), pp. 7-53; and a rejoinder by Waltz, International Politics is Not Foreign Policy, in the same
issue of Security Studies, pp. 54-57.
15 Waltz, Theory, 82-101.
16 Waltz, The Myth of National Interdependence, in The International Corporation: A Symposium, ed. Charles
P. Kindleberger (Cambridge, MA, 1970), 205-23; idem, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More May Be Better,
Adelphi Papers, no. 171 (1981).
17 See especially Robert Keohane, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York, 1986); David A Baldwin, ed.,
Neorealism and Neoliberalism: The Contemporary Debate (New York:1993); Charles W. Kegley, Jr., ed.,
Controversies in International Relations Theory: Realism and the Neoliberal Challenge (New York, 1995); John
A. Vasquez, The Power of Power Politics (New Bruswick, NJ, 1988); and Yale H. Ferguson and Richard W.
Mansbach, The Elusive Quest: Theory and International Politics (Columbia, SC, 1988). A useful post-Cold War
appraisal of realism may be found in Realism: Restatements and Renewal, Security Studies 5 (Spring 1996) pp.
ix-xx, 3-423. The journal International Security is an indispensable source for the continuing debates on realism.
18 Gilpin, War and Change, 10-11.
19 Ibid., chap. 4. Gilpins thesis appears similar in a number of respects to Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the
Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York, 1987).
20 Robert Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Power and Interdependence (Boston, 1977); Edward Morse,
Modernization and the Transformation of International Relations (New York, 1976); James N. Rosenau, The
Study of Global Interdependence (London, 1980); Robert Keohane, After Hegemony (Princeton, NJ, 1984);
Richard Mansbach and John Vasquez, In Search of Theory: A New Paradigm for Global Politics (New York,
1981); James N. Rosenau, Turbulence in World Politics (Princeton, 1990). The journal International

Organization is an indispensable source. See especially the 50th anniversary issue edited by Peter Katzenstein,
Robert Keohane, and Stephen Krasner.
21 For an excellent overview of the challenges of creating effective yet non-oppressive institutions–the
Governance Dilemma–to cope with such issues, see Robert O. Keohane, Governance in a Partially Globalized
World, American Political Science Review 95 (March 2001): 1-13.
22 Rosenau, National Interest, 39. A more recent statement of this view may be found in Richard Rosecrance,
The Rise of the Trading State ( New York, 1986); Yale Ferguson and Richard Mausbach, Polities: Authority,
Identities, and Change (Columbia, SC, 1996). See also John H. Herz, The Rise and Demise of the Territorial
State, World Politics 9 (July 1957): 473-93; and his reconsideration in The Territorial State Revistied:
Reflections on the Future of the Nation-State, Polity 1 (Fall 1968): 12-34.
23 James Cockroft, Andre Gunder Frank, and Dale L. Johnson, Dependence and Underdevelopment (New York,
1972); Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World-System (New York, 1974); idem, The Rise and Future Demise
of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis, Comparative Studies in Society and History
16 (September 1974): 387-415. Debates among advocates of these models are illustrated in Robert A. Denemark
and Kenneth O. Thomas, The Brenner-Wallerstein Debates, International Studies Quarterly 32 (March 1988):
24 Wallerstein, Rise and Future Demise, 390.
25 Tony Smith, The Underdevelopment of Development Literature: The Case of Dependency Theory, World
Politics 31 (January 1979): 247-88; Aristide Zolberg, Origins of the Modern World System: A Missing Link,
ibid, 33 (January 1981): 253-81.
26 Wallerstein, Rise and Future Demise, 401.

27 Ricardo Hausmann, Prisoners of Geography, Foreign Policy (January-February 2001): 44-53; and David
Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York, 1999).
28 Samuel Huntington has been a leading proponent of a cultural perspective on world affairs. Huntington, The
Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York, 1996); and Lawrence Harrison and
Samuel Huntington, editors, Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York, 2000).
29 For example, the writings of Karl Haushofer were used (or misused) by the Nazis to justify German expansion
into the Eurasian Heartland; and in The Geography of Intellect, Stefen Possony and Nathaniel Weyl propounded
the racist thesis that intelligence is related to climate; the warmer the climate from which various racial groups
originated, the lower their intellectual capacities.
30 This example is drawn from a study of the philosophical bases of constructivism, John R. Searle, The
Construction of Social Reality (New York, 1995), 37-43.
31 International Organization 46 (Spring 1992): 391-425.
32 Ole R. Holsti, Cognitive Dynamics and Images of the Enemy: Dulles and Russia, in David J. Finlay, Ole R.
Holsti, and Richard R. Fagen, Enemies in Politics (Chicago, 1967).
33 Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, Power, Globalization and the End of the Cold War,
International Security 25 (Winter 2000-01): 5-53; Jeffrey T. Checkel, Ideas and International Political Change
(New Haven, CT, 1997); and Robert D. English, Russia and the Idea of the West: Gorbachev, Intellectuals and the
End of the Cold War (New York, 2000).
34 Some representative works include Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge, UK, 1999);
Nicholas Onuf, World of Our Making: Rules and Rule in Social Theory and International Relations (Columbia,
SC, 1989); Martha Finnemore, National Interests in International Society (Ithaca, NY, 1996); Peter Katzenstein,
editor, The Culture of National Security (New York, 1996); Audie Klotz, Norms in International Relations (Ithaca,
NY, 1995); Yosef Lapid and Friedrich Kratochvil, editors, The Return of Culture and Identity in IR Theory
(Boulder, CO, 1996). Thoughtful but contrasting assessments may be found in adjoining articles in International
Security 23 (Summer 1998): Michael Desch, Culture Clash: Assessing the Importance of Ideas in Security
Studies, 141-170; and Ted Hopf, The Promise of Constructivism in International Relations Theory, 171-200.
35 Kenneth Boulding, National Images and International Systems, Journal of Conflict Resolution 3 (June 1959):
120. See also Robert Jervis, The Logic of Images in International Relations (Princeton, 1970); and some of the
decision-making approaches described in the next section.
36 The debate was triggered by Michael Doyle, Liberalism and World Politics, American Political Science
Review 80 (December 1986): 1151-70. Some important contributions to the debate include: Bruce Russett,
Grasping the Democratic Peace (Princeton, NJ, 1993); John Owen, Liberal Peace, Liberal War (Ithaca, NY,
1997); Spencer Weart, Never at War (New Haven, CT, 1998); Miriam Fendius Elman, editor, Paths to Peace: Is
Democracy the Answer? (Cambridge, MA, 1997); James Lee Ray, Democracy and International Conflict
(Columbia, SC, 1995); Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder, Democratization and the Danger of War,
International Security 20 (Summer 1995): 5-38.
37 Kenneth Waltz, Structural Realism after the Cold War, International Security 25 (Summer 2000): 13.
38 Michael Mandelbaum, Foreign Policy as Social Work, Foreign Affairs 75 (February 1996): 16-32.
39 There are also models that link types of polities with foreign policy. Two of the more prominent twentiethcentury versions–the Leninist and Wilsonian–have been effectively criticized by Waltz in Man, the State, and
War. Although space limitations preclude a discussion here, for some research along these lines see, among others,

Rudolph J. Rummel, Libertarianism and Violence, Journal of Conflict Resolution 27 (March 1983): 27-71;
Michael Doyle, Liberalism and World Politics; idem, Kant, Liberal Legacies, and Foreign Affairs, Philosophy
and Public Affairs 12 (Winter 1983): 205-35.
40 Chester Barnard, Functions of the Executive (Cambridge, MA, 1938); Herbert Simon, Administrative Behavior:
A Study of Decision-Making Processes in Administrative Organization (New York, 1957): James G. March and
Herbert Simon, Organizations (New York, 1958).
41 Henry A. Kissinger, Conditions of World Order, Daedalus 95 (Spring 1960): 503-29; Allison and Zelikow,
Essence; Morton Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Washington, 1974).
42 The literature is huge. See, for example, Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain and
France Prepare for War, 1904-1914 (Cambridge, MA, 1969; Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine.
43 Wilensky, Organizational Intelligence (New York, 1967); Theodore Lowi, The End of Liberalism: Ideology,
Policy and the Crisis of Public Authority (New York, 1969).
44 Charles F. Hermann, Some Consequences of Crises Which Limit the Viability of Organizations,
Administrative Science Quarterly 8 (June 1963): 61-82; Allison and Zelikow, Essence; Richard Neustadt, Alliance
Politics (New York, 1970); Scott Sagan, Nuclear Alerts and Crisis Management, International Security 9
(Spring 1985): 99-139.
45 Robert Rothstein, Planning, Prediction, and Policy-Making in Foreign Affairs: Theory and Practice (Boston,
1972); Stephen D. Krasner, Are Bureaucracies Important? (Or Allison Wonderland) Foreign Policy 7 (Summer
1972): 159-70; Robert J. Art, Bureaucratic Politics and American Foreign Policy: A Critique, Policy Sciences 4
(December 1973): 467-90; Desmond J. Ball, The Blind Men and the Elephant: A Critique of Bureaucratic Politics
Theory, Australian Outlook 28 (April 1974).

46 Alexander L. George, The Case for Multiple Advocacy in Making Foreign Policy, American Political Science
Review 66 (September 1972): 751-85, 791-95.
47 David A. Welch and James G. Blight, The Eleventh Hour of the Cuban Missile Crisis: An Introduction to the
ExComm Transcripts, International Security 12 (Winter 1987/88): 5-29; McGeorge Bundy and James G. Blight,
October 27, 1962: Transcripts of the Meetings of the ExComm, ibid., 30-92; James G. Blight and David A.
Welch, On the Brink: Americans and Soviets Reexamine the Cuban Missile Crisis (New York, 1989); Ernest R.
May and Philip Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes (Cambridge, MA, 1997).
48 Irving L. Janis, Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascos (Boston,
1972); idem, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascos (Boston, 1982); Charles F.
Hermann and Margaret G. Hermann, Who Makes Foreign Policy Decisions and How: An Empirical Inquiry,
International Studies Quarterly 33 (December 1989): 361-88.
49 Solomon Asch, Effects of Group Pressures upon Modification and Distortion of Judgement, in Group
Dynamics: Research and Theory, ed. Dorwin Cartwright and Alvin Zander (Evanston, IL, 1953), 151-62.
50Janis, Victims; idem, Groupthink. See also Philip Tetlock, Identifying Victims of Groupthink from Public
Statements of Decision Makers, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (August 1979): 1314-24; and
Paul tHart, Eric Stern and B. Sundelius, Beyond Groupthink (Stockholm, 1995).
51 Janis, Groupthink, 260-76; idem, Crucial Decisions, 231-64.
52 For a review of the vast literature see Robert Abelson and A. Levi, Decision Making and Decision Theory, in
Handbook of Social Psychology, 3rd ed., vol. 1, ed. Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson (New York, 1985). The
relevance of psychological models and evidence for international relations are most fully discussed in Robert

Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, 1976); Robert Axelrod, The Structure of
Decision: The Cognitive Maps of Political Elites (Princeton, 1976); Philip Tetlock, Social Psychology and World
Politics, in Daniel Gilbert, Susan Fiske and Gardner Lindzey, editors, The Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th
ed., (Boston, 1998); and Jerel Rosati, The Power of Human Cognition in the Study of World Politics,
International Studies Review 2 (Fall 2000): 45-75.
53 See, for example, Harold Lasswell, Psychopathology and Politics (Chicago, 1931).
54 March and Simon, Organizations, 113.
55 Simon, Administrative Behavior, 198.
56 Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice, Science 211
(30 January 1981): 453-58; Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky, Judgment under Uncerainty:
Heuristics and Biases (Cambridge, England, 1982).
57 Irving L. Janis and Leon Mann, Decision Making: A Psychological Analysis of Conflict, Choice, and
Commitment (New York, 1977); Richard Ned Lebow, Between Peace and War (Baltimore, 1981); Yaacov
Vertzberger, The World in Their Minds (Stanford, CA, 1990).
58 Donald Kinder and J. R. Weiss, In Lieu of Rationality: Psychological Perspectives on Foreign Policy, Journal
of Conflict Resolution 22 (December 1978): 707-35.
59 George F. Kennan, The Cloud of Danger: Current Realities of American Foreign Policy (Boston, 1978), 87-88.
60 Allison, Essence; Jervis, Perception.
61 Charles F. Hermann, International Crises: Insights from Behavioral Research (New York, 1972); Margaret G.
Hermann, Indicators of Stress in Policy-Makers during Foreign Policy Crises, Political Psychology I (March
1979): 27-46; Ole R. Holsti, Crisis, Escalation, War (Montreal, 1972); Ole R. Holsti and Alexander L. George,
The Effects of Stress on the Performance of Foreign Policy-Makers, Political Science Annual, vol. 6
(Indianapolis, 1975).
62 Janis and Mann, Decision Making, 3.
63 Margaret G. Hermann, Explaining Foreign Policy Behavior Using Personal Characteristics of Political
Leaders, International Studies Quarterly 24 (March 1980): 746.
64 Nathan Leites, The Operational Code of the Politburo (New York, 1951); Alexander L. George, The
Operational Code: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision Making, International
Studies Quarterly 13 (June 1969): 190-222; Stephen G. Walker, The Motivational Foundations of Political Belief
Systems: A Re-Analysis of the Operational Code Construct, International Studies Quarterly 27 (June 1983): 179-
202; Stephen Walker, Mark Shafer, and Michael Young, Presidential Operational Codes and Foreign Policy
Conflict in the Post-Cold War World, Journal of Conflict Resolution 43 (1999): 610-625.
65 Integrative simplicity, on the other hand, is characterized by simple responses, gross distinctions, rigidity, and
restricted information usage.
66 Peter Suedfeld and Philip Tetlock, Integrative Complexity of Communications in International Crises, Journal
of Conflict Resolution 21 (March 1977): 169-86; Philip Tetlock, Integrative Complexity of American and Soviet
Foreign Policy Rhetoric: A Time Series Analysis, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49 (December
1985): 1565-85; Karen Guttieri, Michael Wallace, and Peter Suedfeld, The Integrative Complexity of American
Decision Makers in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Journal of Conflict Resolution 39 (December 1995): 595-621.
67 Alexander L. George and Richard Smoke, Deterrence in American Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice (New
York, 1974); Richard Smoke, Escalation (Cambridge, MA, 1977); Glenn H. Snyder and Paul Diesing, Conflict
among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making, and System Structure in International Crises (Princeton, 1977).
Useful discussions on conducting theoretically relevant case studies may be found in Harry Eckstein, Case Study
and Theory in Political Science, in Handbook of Political Science, 9 vols., ed. Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W.
Polsby (Reading, MA, 1975), 7:79-138; Alexander L. George, Case Studies and Theory Development: The
Method of Structured, Focused Comparison, in Lauren, ed., Diplomacy, 43-68; Gary King, Robert Keohane, and
Sidney Verba, Designing Social Inquiry (Princeton, 1994).
68 This perspective is sometimes called post-positivism or post-structuralism. Yosef Lapid, The Third
Debate: On the Prospects of International Theory in a Post-Positivist Era, International Studies Quarterly 33
(1989): 235-54; Andrew Linklater, The Question of the Next Stage in International Relations Theory,
Millennium 21, No. 1 (1992): 77-98; and Chris Brown, `Turtles All the Way Down: Anti-Foundationalsim,
Critical Theory and International Relations, Millennium 23, No. 2 (1994): 213-36. For overviews, see Pauline
Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Sciences (Princeton, 1992); Rosenau, Once Again Into the Fray:
International Relations Confronts the Humanities, Millennium (1990): 83-110; and D.S.L. Jarvis, International
Relations and the Challenge of Postmodernism (Columbia, SC, 2000).
69 Richard Ashley, The Poverty of Neo-Realism, International Organization 38 (Spring 1984): 225-286.
Rosenau, Once Again, 84.
70 Prominent post-modern students of world affairs include Hayward Alker, Jim George, Richard Ashley, Michael
Shapiro, James Der Derian, Christine Sylvester, and R.B.J. Walker.
71 D.S.L. Jarvis, International Relations and the Challenge of Postmodernism (Columbia, SC, 2000), 197-98. For
both substance and clarity, reform-minded social scientists are urged to compare the writing of Ashley and his

colleagues with Robert Keohane, Governance in a Partially Globalized World, American Political Science
Review 95 (March 2001): 1-13.
72 The classic overview of the field and the disciplines that have contributed to it is Quincy Wright, The Study of
International Relations (New York, 1955).
73 In addition to the literature on war, crises, and deterrence already cited see Richard Betts, Nuclear Blackmail
and Nuclear Balance (Washington, 1987); Robert Jervis, Richard Ned Lebow, and Janice G. Stein, Psychology
and Deterrence (Baltimore, 1985); Ole R. Holsti, Crisis Decision Making; and Jack S. Levy, The Causes of
War: A Review of Theories and Evidence, Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, vol. 1, ed. Philip E. Tetlock et al.
(New York, 1989), 8-84, 209-333.
74 John Lewis Gaddis, The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System, International
Security 10 (Spring 1986): 99-142.
75 Paul Bracken, Command and Control of Nuclear Forces (New Haven, 1983); Bruce Blair, Strategic Command
and Control: Redefining the Nuclear Threat (Washington, 1985); Sagan, Nuclear Alerts; Alexander L. George,
Presidential Decision Making in Foreign Policy: The Effective Use of Information and Advice (Boulder, 1980).
76 Waltz, Man, the State, and War, 238.
77 See, for example, David B. Yoffie, Power and Protectionism: Strategies of the Newly Industrializing Countries
(New York, 1983); John Odell, U. S. International Monetary Policy: Markets, Power, and Ideas as Sources of
Change (Princeton, 1982); Jack Snyder, The Ideology of the Offensive: Military Decision Making and the Disaster
of 1914 (Ithaca, 1984); Vinod K. Aggarwal, Liberal Protectionism: The International Politics of Organized Textile
Trade (Berkeley, 1985); Larson, Origins of Containment; Posen, Sources of Military Doctrine; and Stephen Walt,

78 John Lewis Gaddis, International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War, International Security 17
(Winter 1992-93): 5-58.
79 Rosenaus concept of turbulence is drawn from meteorology, and Gaddis finds some interesting parallels
between the contemporary international system and tectonics, a concept drawn from geology. Rosenau,
Turbulence; and John Lewis Gaddis, Living in Candlestick Park, Atlantic Monthly (April 1999): 65-74.
80 Although the concept of self-determination is generally associated with liberals, in the wake of civil wars within
the former Yugoslavia, two prominent realists have suggested redrawing the map of the Balkans to reflect ethnic
identities. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Van Evera, Redraw the May, Stop the Killing, New York Times
(April 19, 1999), p. A27.
81 John Mearsheimer, Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War, International Security 15
(Summer, 1990): 5-56. Rejoinders by Stanley Hoffmann, Robert Keohane, Bruce Russett, and Thomas RisseKappen, as well as responses by Mearsheimer, may be found in the same journal (Fall 1990): 191-99; and (Winter
1990/91): 216-22. Also, Mearsheimer, The Case for a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent, Foreign Affairs 72
(Summer 1993): 50-66.
82 Kenneth N. Waltz, The Emerging Structure of International Politics, International Security 18 (Fall 1993), 76.
83 Waltz, Structural Realism after the Cold War, 19, 39.
84 Robert W. Tucker, Realism and the New Consensus, National Interest 30 (1992-93): 33-36. See also Paul
Schroeder, Historical Reality vs. Neo-Realist Theory, International Security 19 (1994): 108-48.
85 Robert Kaplan, The Coming Anarchy, Atlantic Monthly (February 1994): 44-76; K. J. Holsti, The State, War,
and the State of War (Cambridge 1996); and Barbara Walter and Jack Snyder, editors, Civil War, Insecurity, and
Intervention (New York, 1999).
86 Robert O. Keohane, The Globalization of Informal Violence, Theories of World Politics, and the Liberalism of
Fear, Dialog-IO (Spring 2002): 29-43; Theo Farrell, Constructivist Security Studies: Portrait of a Research
Program, International Studies Review 4 (Spring 2002): 49-72; and Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Realism and the
Constructivist Challenge: Rejecting, Reconstructing, or Rereading, International Studies Review 4 (Spring 2002):

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