Richard Ned Lebow
Counterfactuals seek to alter some feature or event of the pass and by means of a chain of causal logic show how the present might, or would, be different. Counterfactual inquiry—or control of counterfactual situations—is essential to any causal claim. More importantly, counterfactual thought experiments are essential, to the construction of analytical frameworks. Policymakers routinely use then by to identify problems, work their way through problems, and select responses. Good foreign-policy analysis must accordingly engage and employ counterfactuals.
There are two generic types of counterfactuals: minimal-rewrite counterfactuals and miracle counterfactuals. They have relevance when formulating propositions and probing contingency and causation. There is also a set of protocols for using both kinds of counterfactuals toward these ends, and it illustrates the uses and protocols with historical examples. Policymakers invoke counterfactuals frequently, especially with regard to foreign policy, to both choose policies and defend them to key constituencies. They use counterfactuals in a haphazard and unscientific manner, and it is important to learn more about how they think about and employ counterfactuals to understand foreign policy.
There are lots of ways that emotions have been studied in psychology and various ways that their use has been examined in the context of foreign policy. Perhaps one of the most useful ways to examine the influence of emotion on foreign policy is through the lens of risk and threat assessment. Some approaches to emotion tend to categorize emotions as valence-based, in terms of broad-based positivity or negativity. Certainly, elements of this kind of approach can be useful, particularly in terms of thinking about the ways in which political conservatives appear to have a negativity bias. However, an investigation of discrete emotions allows a more sophisticated and nuanced exploration of the effect of emotion on risk analysis and threat assessment, in particular the effect of fear, anger, and disgust on decision-making under conditions of risky threat. Genetic, as well as environmental, circumstances can influence individual variance in the experience and expression of such emotions, and any comprehensive approach to understanding the influence of emotion on decision-making should take all these factors into account.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
Given that mainstream international relations theories failed to adequately explain, let alone predict, the end of the cold war, and consequently, the changed structure of the international system, scholars have searched for better explanations for dramatic changes in world politics. After decades of neglect, scholars have brought back the role of human agency, focusing on transformative leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev, without whom the momentous events of the late 1980s and early 1990s would probably not have taken place when they did. Learning theorists have sought to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government, changes that can lead to foreign policy shifts. Learning theory can be seen as a corrective to “structural adjustment models,” which assume that leaders will respond rationally to changes in the international environment. Learning theorists borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, belief structures, and cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking.
The challenges for the scholar studying foreign policy learning are formidable. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Learning and foreign policy change, moreover, are not synonymous; one can occur without the other. There are also multiple pathways to learning. A complete explanation of learning must incorporate the individual, the domestic, and the systemic levels of analysis—an unappealing task for the scholar who aims to come up with a parsimonious account.
Although the scholar’s task is a daunting one, the effort invested in investigating learning is worthy for improving our understanding—both theoretically and empirically—of foreign policymaking. Leaders who have undergone complex (or genuine) learning are more likely to be committed to the new policies they undertake. Decision makers whose learning has led them to rethink their positions in a more peace-oriented direction, for example, are more likely to be dedicated to peaceful policies than decision makers whose beliefs have remained the same, but who have signaled a shift in policy for purely instrumental purposes. Decision makers who have undergone learning may then act to affect organizational or governmental change, a tall order given the significant impediments to change they are likely to face, such as bureaucratic politics, organizational culture, and political pressures.
Frank C. Zagare
Perfect deterrence theory and classical deterrence theory are two theoretical frameworks that have divergent empirical implications and dissimilar policy recommendations. In perfect deterrence theory, threat credibility plays a central role in the operation of both direct and extended deterrence relationships. But credible threats are neither necessary nor sufficient for deterrence to prevail, and under certain conditions, the presence of a credible threat may actually undermine deterrence. In perfect deterrence theory, the cost of conflict and status quo evaluations are also important strategic variables. Classical deterrence theorists tend to fixate on the former and ignore the latter. This theoretical oversight precludes a nuanced understanding of the dynamics of deterrence.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.