02 Rationality

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					 The Rational Choice
Model of Foreign Policy

 PO 326: American Foreign Policy
      What is Theory? Why is it
►A  theory is an interrelated set of
  parsimonious, fact-like statements
  assembled for the purpose of explaining a
  set of phenomena and predicting its future
► Theory helps us to simplify and connect
  complex and seemingly disparate real-world
        Theory and Foreign Policy
►   We use theories as a means of simplifying the complexity
    of foreign policy processes, with the main goal of
    explaining how and why foreign policy decisions were
    arrived at
►   While theories are extremely useful, not all situations (or
    even facets of particular situations) can be satisfactorily
    explained with a single theoretical approach. Nevertheless,
    it is often worthwhile to determine which theories provide
    the “best” explanations for phenomena
►   Theoretical approaches can, when relied upon by
    practitioners of foreign policy in their approaches to
    situations, shape their actions and eventual outcomes
      Theory and Foreign Policy
► Four  major theoretical approaches to foreign
  policy studied in this course
 Rational Choice Approach
 Organizational Approach
 Governmental (or Bureaucratic Politics) Approach
 Individual/Group Psychological Approaches

  Each approach can propose different explanatory
  answers to the same questions, and each can
  usefully augment the answers provided by others.
         Rational Choice Theory
► Most  commonly employed explanation of human
  behavior, both in and out of the social sciences
► Underlies logic of all major IR theories
► Parsimonious, with great potential explanatory
► A theory of “purposive,” goal-oriented action:
  actors make the choices that they do to maximize
  their chances of attaining a particular goal or set
  of goals
    Basic Rational Choice Assumptions
►   Interests: Individual actors can clearly identify their
    interests and goals
►   Alternatives: Individual actors recognize several courses of
    action that might allow them to attain their goals
►   Determining Expected Utility: Individual actors consider the
    likelihood that each course of action will result in goal
    achievement, and consider the costs associated with each
►   Ranking: Individual actors rank the expected utility of each
    course of action
►   Choice: Individual actors choose the course of action with
    the highest expected utility
     The Determination of Expected
     Utility: The Ice Cream Example
► Consumer’s Goal: Satisfaction - Purchase most desirable
  ice cream cone
► Satisfaction Scale: 1 (least favorable) -> 5 (most
► Chocolate=5; Vanilla=3; Strawberry=1
► If the costs of purchasing each are similar, and the
  probability that chocolate will satisfy is higher than the
  others, then chocolate will be purchased
► If chocolate is prohibitively expensive, but the costs of
  vanilla and strawberry are acceptable and identical, vanilla
  is chosen, etc.
► Powerful, seemingly accurate concept by which to predict
  and explain choice
     Key Impediments and Caveats to
►   “Bounded Rationality” (Simon)

►   Incomplete Information
      Actors are inherently uncertain about likelihood that a particular course of
       action will automatically lead to furtherance of interests
      Actors may be unable to identify alternative courses of action that could
       give them a better chance of achieving goals

►   Strategic Interaction
      Actors do not operate in a vacuum; their options and actions are
       contingent upon the (sometimes opposed) goal-oriented activity of others
       occupying their decision spaces
      In interactions, actors are often unsure of the interests and may
       misperceive the intentions of others, leading to suboptimal outcomes
     The Determination of Expected
     Utility: The Ice Cream Example
► Consumer is uncertain of the quality of all types of ice
  cream, and of quality of chocolate in relation to others
  (e.g., probability of satisfaction from chocolate and other
  flavors is variable); certain knowledge of poor quality
  would likely change decision
► Consumer may be unaware of the quality and prices at
  nearby ice cream establishments (lack of knowledge of
  available alternatives)
► Consumer is uncertain of vendor’s price flexibility, whether
  or not he is being “gouged” (strategic interaction)
► Decision making seems much more complex than originally
  modeled by rational choice theory
     Rational Choice Theory in the
       Context of Foreign Policy
► Assumes   that states are UNITARY ACTORS
  (normally, leadership decision reflects national
► Evidence that state actions can be explained and
  predicted by rational choice, and that states
  expect others to act rationally (McNamara and
  impossibility of nuclear war, 1962)
► General proposition: “If I know an actors
  objective, I have a major clue to his likely action”

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