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date: 24 September 2017

The First Wave of Foreign Policy Analysis

Summary and Keywords

The first wave of the International Relations subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis occurred from 1954 to 1994, encompassing a founding period (the 1950s and 1960s) and a period of first consolidation (the 1970s to the end of the Cold War). The early years of the 1950s and 1960s produced some of the defining works that would indelibly shape the character of the field. The work of Richard Snyder, James Rosenau, and Harold and Margaret Sprout molded the field with their focus on decision-making processes, political psychology, cross-national analysis, and actor-specific theory. The subsequent first-wave work, which dealt with small-group dynamics, organizational process, bureaucratic politics, leader personality, cognition and heuristics, culture, domestic political contestation, and national attributes, blended with an understanding of international and regional systemic effects, became FPA classics.

Keywords: Foreign Policy Analysis, Richard Snyder, James Rosenau, Harold Sprout, Margaret Sprout, levels of analysis, theoretical integration

In 2005, the journal Foreign Policy Analysis published its first issue. The launch of that flagship journal represented a vision realized—a vision that the International Relations subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis would once again have an identity, would see a greater cumulation of theoretical and empirical work, and would have a solid future as younger generations of scholars received renewed exposure to Foreign Policy Analysis in graduate school. The lead article in that first issue surveyed the history of the subfield. In its origins could be found choices—both theoretical and empirical—that continue to shape Foreign Policy Analysis.

The first wave of the International Relations subfield of Foreign Policy Analysis occurred from 1954 to 1994, a period that encompassed its founding (the 1950s and 1960s) and its first consolidation (the 1970s to end of the Cold War). The early years produced some of the defining works that would indelibly shape the field’s character, notably the works of Richard Snyder, James Rosenau, and Harold and Margaret Sprout who shaped the field with their concentration on decision-making processes, political psychology, cross-national analysis, and actor-specific theory. Subsequent first-wave work in the areas of small-group dynamics, organizational process, bureaucratic politics, leader personality, cognition and heuristics, culture, domestic political contestation, and national attributes, blended with an understanding of international and regional systemic effects, became Foreign Policy Analysis classics.

Three Foundational Works

The study of human decision making is as old as the human species, so in a sense the human mind is predisposed to search for Foreign Policy Analysis-style explanations of foreign policy. But a more systematic Foreign Policy Analysis research endeavor that could be characterized simultaneously as scholarly, theoretical, empirical, and cross-national is best traced to the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Three paradigmatic works arguably laid the foundation for Foreign Policy Analysis, as I have advanced in previous essays:

  • Decision-making as an Approach to the Study of International Politics by Richard C. Snyder, H. W. Bruck, and Burton Sapin (1954: also see Snyder et al., 1962; reprinted in 2002).

  • Man-Milieu Relationship Hypotheses in the Context of International Politics by Harold and Margaret Sprout (1956: expanded and revised in article form in 1957 and their 1965 book The Ecological Perspective on Human Affairs with Special Reference to International Politics).

  • “Pre-theories and Theories of Foreign Policy” by James N. Rosenau (a book chapter written in 1964 and published in Farrell, 1966).

Of great importance to any discussion of Foreign Policy Analysis is the context of International Relations scholarship during the time period in which these works were published: the Cold War. International Relations theorizing during this time period tended to “black box” the particularities of states, looking instead for larger patterns of power, its distribution, and its use. Foreign Policy Analysis was a counterpoint to that dominant theme in its insistence that the black box must be opened for foreign policy to be adequately explained.

Richard Snyder and his colleagues exhorted researchers to look below the nation-state level of analysis to the players involved:

We adhere to the nation-state as the fundamental level of analysis, yet we have discarded the state as a metaphysical abstraction. By emphasizing decision-making as a central focus we have provided a way of organizing the determinants of action around those officials who act for the political society. Decision-makers are viewed as operating in [a] dual-aspect setting so that apparently unrelated internal and external factors become related in the actions of the decision-makers. Hitherto, precise ways of relating domestic factors have not been adequately developed.

(Snyder et al., 1954, p. 53)

Snyder and his colleagues bequeathed to Foreign Policy Analysis its characteristic emphasis on foreign policy decision making (FPDM) versus foreign policy outcomes. The real theoretical task was to understand this “dual-aspect setting,” wherein “internal” factors and “external” factors affecting foreign policy meet in the minds of foreign policy decision makers. This task fairly demands the development of explanations that are both multicausal and draw upon insights from a variety of academic disciplines pertinent to the study of decision making, such as sociology, psychology, and organizational behavior.

Harold and Margaret Sprout’s work supported this emphasis on decision making and added to it a call for to examine the foreign policy leaders themselves. Their view was that understanding foreign policy outputs, which they associated with the analysis of power capabilities within an interstate system as in classic Cold War International Relations theorizing, without reference to the purpose inherent in foreign policy undertakings, was doomed to failure. States were not billiard balls, simply reacting to forces unleashed in the system: rather, they maintained, decision makers have strategies, decisions, and intentions. Anyone interested in the success or effectiveness of a foreign policy must measure that success according to those benchmarks. “Explanations of achievement and estimations of capabilities for achievement invariably and necessarily presuppose antecedent undertakings or assumptions regarding undertakings. Unless there is an undertaking, there can be no achievement—and nothing to explain or estimate” (1965, p. 225).

The Sprouts maintained that explanation of foreign policy decision making requires an examination of the psychomilieu of the individuals and groups making the foreign policy decision. The psychomilieu is the international and operational environment or context as perceived and interpreted by these decision makers. Discongruities between perceived and real operational environments can occur, leading to ineffective or even catastrophic choices. The task for the Foreign Policy Analysis researcher is to stop assuming the psychomilieu of a given collective of decision makers, and thereby “black box” it, and instead uncover what it actually is:

Instead of drawing conclusions regarding an individual’s probable motivations and purposes, his environmental knowledge, and his intellectual processes linking purposes and knowledge, on the basis of assumptions as to the way people are likely on the average to behave in a given social context, the cognitive behavioralist—be he narrative historian or systematic social scientist—undertakes to find out as precisely as possible how specific persons actually did perceive and respond in particular contingencies.

(1965, p. 118)

Such a task, of course, would entail in-depth case study and process-tracing, ensuring that Foreign Policy Analysis would develop into a field with high information requirements. Scholars in countries where information on high-level government decision making is absent or where requests for such information could lead to untoward consequences for the scholar would be handicapped in their ability to perform such research (Brummer & Hudson, 2015).

Our third paradigmatic work helped mold Foreign Policy Analysis in a somewhat different manner. While Snyder and the Sprouts encouraged scholarship that opened the black box and dove into the details of persons, organizations, and perceptions, James Rosenau’s pretheorizing encouraged scholars to aspire to systematically uncover cross-nationally applicable generalizations about nation-state behavior. As Rosenau put it,

To identify factors is not to trace their influence. To understand processes that affect external behavior is not to explain how and why they are operative under certain circumstances and not under others. To recognize that foreign policy is shaped by internal as well as external factors is not to comprehend how the two intermix or to indicate the conditions under which one predominates over the other . . . . Foreign Policy Analysis lacks comprehensive systems of testable generalizations . . . . Foreign Policy Analysis is devoid of general theory.

(1966, pp. 98–99)

What Rosenau was encouraging was not the development of a grand theory of foreign policy decision making, but rather the development of middle-range theory: theory that mediates between cross-national generalization and the complexity of what Snyder and the Sprouts were studying. Recognizing patterns and providing testable hypotheses to probe these patterns would both be important then. The metaphor Rosenau used in this work is instructive in this regard—Foreign Policy Analysis researchers, he said, should emulate Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics, who was able to discern genotype from phenotype in plants through careful observation and comparison. Are there genotypes of nation-states, knowledge of which would confer explanatory and predictive power on our models of foreign policy interaction?

Two other aspects of Rosenau’s pretheory work also shaped Foreign Policy Analysis. First, he felt that the best way to uncover such midrange generalizations was through aggregate statistical exploration and confirmation. Thus, Foreign Policy Analysis was never a purely qualitative enterprise, even from the very beginning. Second, Rosenau also underscored the need to integrate information at several levels of analysis—from individual leaders to the international system—to achieve Foreign Policy Analysis’s theoretical aims. Without such integration, explanation (and prediction) would always have a piecemeal cast.

These three works provided a powerful counterpoint to the mainstream International Relations theory of that era. The “black boxing” of nation-states was indefensible, whether from a theoretical or a practical standpoint, in explaining and forecasting foreign policy decision making and behavior. Making sense of the decisions being made would require delving into the particularities of personalities, institutions, cultures, economics, and politics. Furthermore, such particularities should not remain as undigested idiosyncrasies (as in traditional single-country studies), but rather should be incorporated as instances of larger categories of variation in the process of cross-national middle-range theory-building. Multiple levels of analysis, ranging from the most micro to the most macro, should ideally be integrated in the service of such theory. The stores of knowledge of all the social sciences must be drawn upon in this endeavor. In addition, the process of foreign policymaking was at least as important, if not more so, than foreign policy as a type of final output. The substance of this message was and continues to be the “hard core” of Foreign Policy Analysis, and that Foreign Policy Analysis can be viewed as a subfield not only of International Relations, but also of a larger research program in the social sciences that includes disparate fields such as behavioral economics and organizational behavior.

These works also provided the key characteristics that distinguish Foreign Policy Analysis from other subfields of International Relations. Foreign Policy Analysis is an agent-oriented explanation of foreign policy. This means that the theories developed will be tailored to the specifics of the individuals and collectives involved in making a foreign policy decision at a certain historical moment. Because the information requirements needed to pull off such an agent-oriented explanation are so high, Foreign Policy Analysis has made its greatest strides in nations that permit sufficient transparency, such as through records declassification, to mount such an analysis. It is also true, however, that is not in any sense limited to the study of state foreign policy; one could, for example, explain corporate foreign policy or nongovernmental organizations’ foreign policy, or even terrorist group foreign policy as well.

Another key characteristic arising from Foreign Policy Analysis’s foundation is Foreign Policy Analysis’s interest in the multiplicity of forces, internal and external, that affect foreign policy decision making. These may be structural forces, ideational forces, or material forces. Although many Foreign Policy Analysis scholars concentrate on a subset of relevant factors when explaining particular decisions, the larger subfield is interested in the potential effect of all of these forces as they enhance explanations of foreign policy. As a result, Foreign Policy Analysis embraces the examination of multiple levels of analysis. Each of the three works—by Snyder, the Sprouts, and Rosenau—adopts that theoretical stance.

The major levels of analysis found in Foreign Policy Analysis include the following:

  • Cognitive processes of decision makers—an examination of the effects of cognition, learning, emotion, illness, heuristic fallacies, memory, problem representation.

  • Leader personality and orientation—approaches including operational code analysis, studies of motivations, psychobiography, and leader foreign policy orientation studies.

  • Small-group dynamics—the study of small-group structures and processes, coalition theory, groupthink and newgroup analysis.

  • Organization process—an examination of incremental learning, standard operating procedures, implementation issues, organizational culture.

  • Bureaucratic politics—an analysis of turf, morale, budget, influence, interagency group politics, as they affect organizational preferences concerning foreign policy outcomes.

  • Culture and identity—various approaches including role theory, nationalism and identity politics, investigation of identity through history and discourse, value preferences, and action templates.

  • Domestic political contestation—the examination of regime type, political interest groups, the two-level game, electoral politics, public opinion, media studies.

  • National attributes—an analysis of geography, national resources, economic variables such as level of development or patterns of trade flow, as they affect foreign policy decision making.

  • Regional and international system effects—an analysis of regional and international distributions of power, anarchy and its mitigation by international regimes, longstanding enmities and friendships.

Clearly, to do justice to this multiplicity of forces that may affect human decision makers as they make foreign policy, the insights of more than international relations, or even political science, will be necessary. As a result, Foreign Policy Analysis is radically transgressive of disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences and sometimes beyond. Foreign Policy Analysis, then, is a multidiscipline bringing in insights from behavioral economics, psychology, organizational behavior, sociology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, history, artificial intelligence, and so forth. Many Foreign Policy Analysis scholars have in fact been trained in more than one field, and methodological training in Foreign Policy Analysis entails great breadth and, at minimum, training in both qualitative and quantitative techniques.

Finally, the very nature of the Foreign Policy Analysis enterprise demands an element that is quite challenging: theoretical and empirical integration of explanatory factors across the levels of analysis. How to do so is a question that the three works answer differently—Snyder and the Sprouts by in-depth qualitative case study; Rosenau by aggregate statistical testing of cross-national hypotheses. Given the enormity of the task, integration is still on the front burner for Foreign Policy Analysis in a theoretical sense. Snyder presaged this reality in his own work when he stated, “The central concept of decision-making may provide a basis for linking a group of theories which hitherto have been applicable only to a segment of international politics or have not been susceptible of application at all” (1962, p. 74).

It is also true that the rubber hits the road for Foreign Policy Analysis with regard to specific cases, or point explanations and point predictions. If multiple factors influence foreign policy decision making, then Foreign Policy Analysis scholars must be capable of integrating the effects of those factors; in a sense, they need to find a way to add the vectors of the forces examined—and there is no alternative to doing so with regard to specific cases. In a way, the more general theory of what forces affect FPDM must at some point be instantiated through the particularities of real-life cases. This is what Alexander George meant by actor-specific theory, and it is a hallmark of Foreign Policy Analysis (George, 1993). This emphasis on point explanation also elides into a means to attempt point prediction, and this has policy applicability. The intelligence organizations of every country in the world are tasked with just such point prediction, which makes Foreign Policy Analysis one of the most policy-relevant subfields of international relations.

Snyder spoke to this aspiration when he wrote,

[I]if one wishes to probe the “why” questions underlying the events, conditions, and interaction patterns which rest upon state action, then decision-making analysis is certainly necessary. We would go so far as to say that the “why” questions cannot be answered without analysis of decision making.

(Snyder, Bruck, & Sapin, 1962, p. 33, author emphasis)

In sum, the three paradigmatic Foreign Policy Analysis works molded its theoretical and analytic character. Of course, in addition to providing this hard core and key characteristics, ancillary dimensions of work by Snyder, the Sprouts, and Rosenau had more temporally bounded effects. One example is the simultaneous desire for aggregate statistical testing (Rosenau) in a context where one needed voluminous and highly detailed data that were not susceptible to quantification (Snyder and the Sprouts). Some of these paradoxes inherent in the founding three works were at least partially responsible for the decline of Foreign Policy Analysis scholarship in the 1980s. However, the end of the Cold War—and the manner in which it ended—engendered a renaissance for Foreign Policy Analysis that has continued into the second decade of the present century. The Cold War ended because of personalities such as Reagan and Gorbachev; civil society actors such as churches and freeze movements; domestic politics; and cultural factors—all catalyzing elements that “black-box” theories would not have imagined being successful in their aims. In other words, the Cold War ended because of the factors best captured theoretically and empirically by Foreign Policy Analysis.

Group Decision Making, or the Descendants of Richard Snyder

The issue of how groups make decisions was at the forefront of Richard Snyder’s work (Snyder worked with Glenn Paige to develop a series of insightful case analyses; see Snyder & Paige, 1958; Paige, 1959, 1968). The dynamics of groups may be strongly affected by their size and their complexity, however; thus, scholars began to distinguish between the study of small groups and the study of larger groups, such as organizations and bureaucracies.

Small-Group Dynamics

The study of small groups and foreign policy made tremendous theoretical and empirical advances during the 1970s and 1980s. The most important work on small-group dynamics was that of Irving Janis, whose seminal Victims of Groupthink almost singlehandedly began this research tradition in Foreign Policy Analysis (Janis, 1982). In that volume, Janis shows that the motivation of individuals to maintain group consensus and personal acceptance by the group can cause deterioration in the quality of foreign policy decision making. The empirical research of Leana (1975), Semmel (1982), Semmel and Minix (1979), Tetlock (1979), and others extended this research, using aggregate analysis of experimental data and providing additional case studies related to foreign policy. Charles F. Hermann is another central name in group decision making in foreign policy, and whereas groupthink was one of several possible outcomes in his work, Hermann examined a number of other alternative outcomes as well (1978). He classified groups along several dimensions (size, role of leader, rules for decision, autonomy of group participants), with each factor helping to determine general group predispositions.

Later work in the first wave moved “beyond groupthink” to both refine and extend understanding of small-group processes. Representative work in this vein includes ‘t Hart (1990), ‘t Hart, Stern, and Sundelius (1997), Herek et al. (1987, 1989), McCauley (1989), Ripley (1989), Stewart, Hermann, and Hermann (1989), and Gaenslen (1992). A new emphasis was established when researchers began to ask how a group comes to understand, represent, and frame a given foreign policy situation. Among these researchers were George Breslauer, Charles F. Hermann, Donald Sylvan, Philip Tetlock, and James Voss (Vertzberger, 1990; Breslauer & Tetlock, 1991; Boynton, 1991; Voss, Wolfe, Lawrence, & Engler, 1991; Khong, 1992; Billings & Hermann, 1994).

Organizational Process and Bureaucratic Politics

Large organizations and complex bureaucracies play an outsized role in foreign policymaking and implementation. First-wave research showed how foreign policy decisions can be subverted by the need to work with and through large organized governmental agencies and sets of agencies. Organizations and bureaucracies put their own survival at the top of their list of priorities. This survival is measured by relative influence vis à vis other organizations (sometimes called “turf”), by the organization’s budget, and by the morale of its personnel. The organization will jealously guard and seek to increase its turf and strength, as well as to preserve undiluted what it feels to be its “essence” or “mission.” Large organizations also develop standard operating procedures (SOPs), which, while allowing them to react reflexively despite their inherent unwieldiness, permit little flexibility or creativity. These SOPS may be the undoing of more innovative solutions devised by decision makers operating at levels higher than the organization, but there is little alternative to the bureaucracy’s implementation of policy. Thus, substantial slippage may occur between the decision and its implementation, a slippage that is often called the implementation gap.

Although this research agenda is articulated in works such as Huntington (1960), Hilsman (1967, 1987), Neustadt (1970), and Schilling et al. (1962), probably the most frequently cited works are Allison (1971) and Halperin (1974; additional works co-authored by Halperin include Allison and Halperin (1972) and Halperin and Kanter (1973); see also Krasner, 1971). In his famous Essence of Decision, Graham Allison offers three “cuts” to explain one episode in foreign policy—the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Investigating both the U.S. and the Soviet sides of this episode, Allison shows that the unitary rational actor model of foreign policymaking is insufficient to explain many of the particulars of the crisis. Offering two additional models as successive “cuts” at explanation, the organizational process model (intraorganizational factors) and the bureaucratic politics model (interorganizational factors), Allison is able to explain more fully what took place in that famous incident. His use of three levels of analysis also reinforces the desirability of theoretical integration in explaining specific cases.

Comparative Foreign Policy, or the Descendants of James Rosenau

Comparative foreign policy was the manifestation of Foreign Policy Analysis in its most avowedly Rosenauian form. The goal of comparative foreign policy researchers was to formulate a cross-national and multilevel theory of foreign policy subjected to rigorous aggregate empirical testing. The term comparative foreign policy was sometimes used to mean two somewhat different things, so it is important to mention both meanings here. Comparative foreign policy can mean a qualitative cross-national comparison of decision-making processes, or alternatively, the pursuit of aggregate empirical analysis to uncover generalizable cross-national patterns.

Comparative foreign policy shows most clearly the historical context of the Cold War period, with its legacy of scientism/behavioralism. Clearly, foreign policy could not be studied in the aggregate, but researchers asserted that foreign policy behavior could. Searching for an analogue to the “vote” as the fundamental explanandum in behavioralist American political studies, comparative foreign policy adherents proposed the foreign policy “event”: the tangible artifact of the influence attempt that is foreign policy, alternatively viewed as “who does what to whom, how” in international affairs. Events could be compared along behavioral dimensions, such as whether positive or negative affect was being displayed, or what instruments of statecraft (e.g., diplomatic, military, economics) were used in the influence attempt, or what level of commitment of resources was evident. Behavior as disparate as a war, a treaty, and a state visit could now be compared and aggregated in pursuit of statistical investigation. With the conceptual breakthrough of the “event,” it was now possible to collect data on a variety of possible explanatory factors and determine (by analyzing the variance in the events’ behavioral dimensions) the patterns through which these independent variables were correlated with foreign policy behavior (see McGowan & Shapiro, 1973).

The collection of “events data” was funded to a significant degree by the United States government. Andriole and Hopple (1981) estimate that the government (primarily the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency [DARPA] and the National Science Foundation) provided over $5 million for the development of events datasets during the time period 1967–1981. The acronyms of some of these events data projects live on: some because the data are still being collected (e.g., see the new incarnation of KEDS, which is called CEDS), others because the data are still useful as a testing ground for hypotheses: WEIS (the World Event/Interaction Survey), COPDAB (the Conflict and Peace Data Bank), CREON (Comparative Research on the Events of Nations), and so forth. Later datasets employed machine coding, leading to much more reliable and capacious data collection and coding than was possible in the first wave of events data (Schrodt, 1995). At the time of this writing, however, more work using events data appears to be ongoing within the intelligence community than within academia.

The Psychological and Societal Milieux of Foreign Policy Decision Making, or the Descendants of the Sprouts

Psychologists tell us that every individual has a complex mental architecture, containing intricately related information and patterns, and organized as beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, emotions, traits, style, memory, national and self-conceptions. The minds of individuals are also shaped by culture, history, geography, economics, political institutions, ideology, demographics, and innumerable other factors. As we have seen, the Sprouts (1956, 1957, and 1965) referred to these influences as the psychomilieu of decision making, and scholarly efforts to explore that milieu were numerous and path-breaking. For example, Michael Brecher’s The Foreign Policy System of Israel explores that nation’s psychocultural environment and its effects on Israel’s foreign policy. Brecher’s work has an avowedly integrative cast, but most of the work in the Sproutian tradition takes a more focused look at psychological or sociological dimensions of foreign policymaking.

Leaders and Decision Makers

Snyder argued that the point of intersection of all material and ideational factors affecting foreign policy was the decision makers themselves. Then in a real way the cognition and information processing of an actual human agent provide the means of integrating all the explanatory levels of Foreign Policy Analysis in real time. What sets Foreign Policy Analysis apart from more mainstream International Relations is this insistence that, as Hermann and Kegley put it, a “compelling explanation [of foreign policy] cannot treat the decider exogenously” (1994, p. 4).

Psychological research already tells us quite a lot about decision making. Foreign policy, of course, is both like and unlike typical decision-making situations. Often, foreign policy decision-making opportunities exhibit high stress, high uncertainty, and sometimes also the dominant position of the head of state. In those circumstances, psychologists tell us that the personal characteristics of the individual will become critical in understanding foreign policy choice. The work of Harold Lasswell on political leadership was a significant influence on many early pioneers of political psychology with reference to foreign policy (see Lasswell, 1930, 1948). Joseph de Rivera’s The Psychological Dimension of Foreign Policy (1968) is an excellent survey and integration of early attempts to apply psychological and social psychological theory to foreign policy cases. Another early effort at a systematic study of leader personality effects is the concept of “operational code,” an idea originating with Nathan Leites (1951), and refined and extended by one of the most important figures in this area of research: Alexander George (1969). Defining an operational code involves identifying the core political beliefs of the leader about the inevitability of conflict in the world, the leader’s estimation of his or her own power to change events, and so forth, as well as exploring the preferred means and style of pursuing goals (see also Johnson, 1977; O. Holsti, 1977; Walker, 1977). It should be noted that George’s influence on the field is by no means confined to his work on operational codes; see George (1976, 1979, 1993, 1994) and George and Smoke (1974).

Margaret G. Hermann is an important figure in the first wave of Foreign Policy Analysis theorizing. She typologized leaders with specific reference to foreign policy dispositions (1970, 1978). Using a modified operational code framework in conjunction with content analysis, she compares and contrasts leaders’ beliefs, motivations, decisional styles, and interpersonal styles. Furthermore, Hermann integrates this information into a more holistic picture of the leader: she posits that leaders belong to one of several distinct “foreign policy orientations.” Extrapolating from the array of personality traits, Hermann makes more specific projections about a leader’s behavior in a variety of circumstances. For example, what types of groups will the leader be more comfortable working with? What types of responses to opposition is the leader likely to display? Also welcome were efforts to compare different personality assessment schemes posited by scholars (Winter, Hermann, Weintraub, & Walker, 1991; Singer & Hudson, 1992; Snare, 1992).

But personality is not all there is to understanding the influence of the decision maker on the decision. The leader’s perceptions of the situation and other actors in the foreign policy context also play a vital role. The works of Robert Jervis, Richard Cottam, and Richard Herrmann deserve special mention here. Jervis’s Perception and Misperception in International Politics (1976) and Cottam’s Foreign Policy Motivation: A General Theory and a Case Study (1977) both explicate the potentially grave consequences of misperception in foreign policy situations by exploring its roots. Deterrence strategies can fail catastrophically if misperception of the other’s intentions or motivations occur (see also O. Holsti, North, & Brody’s stimulus-response models, 1968). Richard Herrmann (1985, 1986, 1993) developed a typology of stereotypical images with reference to Soviet perceptions (the other as “child,” as “degenerate,” etc.) and began to extend his analysis to the images held by other nations, including American and Islamic images. Work in the late 1980s that continued this tradition included scholarship by Janice Gross Stein, Richard Ned Lebow, Ole Holsti, Alexander George, Deborah Welch Larson, Betty Glad, and Stephen Walt (Jervis, Lebow, & Stein, 1985; Martha Cottam, 1986; George & Smoke, 1989; O. Holsti, 1989; Lebow & Stein, 1990; Larson 1985, 1993; Glad, 1989; Post, 1990; Walt, 1992). The first wave of Foreign Policy Analysis was also explicitly prescriptive; the work of Janis, Halperin, and others, and the work of Jervis and Cottam, for example, include advice and suggestions for policymakers for guarding against misperception and overconfidence.

The work on cognitive constraints was informed by the work of scholars in other fields, including that of Herbert Simon (1985) on bounded rationality, Heuer (1999, but written 1978–1986) on cognitive bias, and Kahneman, Slovic, and Tversky (1982) on heuristic error. Many other important cognitive and psychological studies that appeared during the 1970s and early 1980s dealt with a diversity of factors: motivations of leaders (Barber, 1972; Winter, 1973; Etheredge, 1978); cognitive maps, scripts, and schemas (Shapiro & Bonham, 1973; Axelrod, 1976, Carbonell, 1978); cognitive style (Suedfeld & Tetlock, 1977); life experience of leaders (Stewart, 1977), and others. Good edited collections of the time include Hermann and Milburn (1977) and Falkowski (1979).

National and Societal Characteristics

Moving outward from the individual to the society is an important element in Foreign Policy Analysis because decision makers are shaped by their cultural and societal backgrounds. One of the most important theoretical moves in this respect was made by Kal Holsti, whose elucidation of “national role conception” arguably bridged both the psychological and the social milieu (1970). With this concept, Holsti sought to capture how a nation—represented by its leaders—views itself and its role in the international arena. Other important and representative works in this line of theorizing included Bobrow et al. (1979); Broderson (1961); Hess (1963); Merelman (1969); and Renshon (1977). The methodology of national role conception was continued in the 1980s by Walker (1987) and others (Wish, 1980; Cottam & Shih, 1992; Shih, 1993); to this day, this methodology remains an important part of the Foreign Policy Analysis toolkit.

The study of culture as an independent variable affecting foreign policy was just beginning to be redeveloped near the end of the 1980s, after overcoming the problems associated with that line of inquiry during the Nazi period. Culture might have an effect on cognition (Motokawa, 1989); it might have ramifications for the structuration of institutions such as bureaucracies (Sampson, 1987). Conflict resolution techniques might be different for different cultures, as well (Cushman & King, 1985; Pye, 1986; Gaenslen, 1989). Indeed, the very processes of policymaking might be stamped by one’s cultural heritage and socialization (Holland, 1984; Etheredge, 1985; Lampton, 1986; Merelman, 1986; Leung, 1987; Voss & Dorsey, 1992; Banerjee, 1991).

A critical element in assessing the broader societal influence on foreign policy is undertaking an examination of domestic political contestation. Clearly, domestic politics affects foreign policy decisions, and Robert Dahl’s volume, Regimes and Oppositions (1973), provided key theoretical concepts necessary to analyze the relationship between domestic political pressure by societal groups and foreign policy choice by governments. Other more country- and region-specific case studies were also developed: see Chittick (1970); Dallin (1969); Deutsch et al. (1967); Hellman (1969); Hughes (1978); Korany (1986); and Ogata (1977), among others. In the late 1980s, a new wave of thinking began to explore the limits of state autonomy in relation to other societal groups in the course of policymaking. The work of Putnam (1988) on the “two-level game” of foreign and domestic policy was paradigmatic for establishing the major questions of this research subfield. Other excellent work includes Evans et al. (1985), Lamborn and Mumme (1989), Levy (1988), Levy and Vakili (1989), Hagan (1987), and Mastanduno, Lake, and Ikenberry (1989). These elements can also be seen in the work of Van Belle (1993), Skidmore and Hudson (1993), Kaarbo (1993), Hagan (1993), and Bueno de Mesquida and Lalman (1992). Study of the effects of public opinion on foreign policymaking was undertaken as well, probing the question of whether the conventional understanding of public opinion having an effect on domestic policy transferred to foreign policy as well (Almond, 1950). Researchers found that the public could articulate foreign policy preferences, of which leaders felt the need to take note. Illustrative works include Caspary (1970), Achen (1975), Mueller (1973), Holsti and Rosenau (1979), Mandlebaum and Schneider (1979), Cantril (1967), Graber (1968), Yankelovich (1979), Hughes (1978), Wittkopf (1981), Beal and Hinckley (1984), Verba and Brody (1970), and Verba et al. (1967).

Less Dynamic Levels of Analysis

Part of the context for foreign policy decision making must include national attributes, such as size, geography, level of technology, and military might—levels of analysis that are less dynamic but still quite influential. The propensity to be involved in war was usually the foreign policy dependent variable of choice in this first-wave work on national attributes and foreign policy (see East, 1978; East & Hermann, 1974; Kean & McGowan, 1973; Rummel, 1972, 1977, 1979; Salmore & Salmore, 1978). Are large, or rich, or authoritarian nations more likely to go to war than small, or poor, or democractic nations? On the other hand, political economy research on the effects of economic structures and conditions on foreign policy choice are fairly rare: the “culture” of International Political Economy and the “culture” of Foreign Policy Analysis did not mix well. However, the works of Neil Richardson and Charles Kegley (e.g., see Richardson & Kegley, 1980) and of Peter Katzenstein (e.g., see Katzenstein, 1985) are notable exceptions to this generalization.

Democratic peace theory can also contribute to the discussion. Democracies, it was noted, tend not to fight one another, though they fight nondemocratic countries as often as other nondemocracies do. This appeared to be an example of how a difference in polity type led to a difference in foreign policy behavior (Russett, 1993a, 1993b). This question has provided an interesting bridge for Foreign Policy Analysis and International Relations. Here there are more abstract theorists of war (Merritt & Zinnes, 1991; Morgan, 1992; Bremer, 1993; Dixon, 1993; Ray, 1993; Maoz & Russett, 1993) wrestling with a question that leads them into Foreign Policy Analysis waters and into conversation with Foreign Policy Analysis scholars (Hagan, 1994; Hermann & Kegley, 1995).

Finally, the international system is surely part of the foreign policy decision-making context. The effects of system type, as elucidated by Kaplan (1957, 1972), may depend on the number of poles in the system, the distribution of power among poles, and the rules of the system game that permit its maintenance. This structure may then determine to a large extent the range of permissible foreign policy behavior of nations. The work of Waltz (1979, 1986) was extremely influential in its description of the effects of an anarchical world system on the behavior of its member states (see also Rosecrance, 1963; Hoffman 1961; Singer et al., 1972). While concurring that system-level effects are important, it is also true that Foreign Policy Analysis scholars do not typically emphasize this type of explanation because the system may be invariant when a particular foreign policy decision was taken. This invariance means that explanation of the decision must focus rather at lower levels of analysis, where the situation is more dynamic. Unfortunately, this practical necessity is one of several sources for the notable lack of integration between actor-general systems theory in International Relations and Foreign Policy Analysis, though the work of neoclassical realists in recent years may help build such bridges.

Integrative Efforts

What profit it a subfield to have advanced powerful theories at each level of analysis, and yet be unable to integrate those? Several groups of scholars took up that challenge in the first wave. The four most ambitious of these projects were those of Michael Brecher (1972) and his associates of the IBA Project (Wilkenfeld et al., 1980), DON (Rummel, 1972, 1977), CREON (East et al., 1978; Callahan, Brady, & Hermann, 1982), and Harold Guetzkow’s INS (Guetzkow, 1963). Independent variables at several levels of analysis were linked by theoretical propositions (sometimes instantiated in statistical or mathematical equations) to properties or types of foreign policy behavior. At least three of the four attempted to confirm or disconfirm the propositions by aggregate empirical testing. However, the mechanisms of integration used in these efforts did not inspire follow-on efforts, and integration remains a vitally important but largely inert area of Foreign Policy Analysis theorizing in the modern day.


The first wave of Foreign Policy Analysis scholarship, including the three founding works by Snyder, the Sprouts, and Rosenau, and extending to work produced until the end of the Cold War, was revolutionary in its theoretical and empirical significance. Of course, these roots—Cold War context and predominantly U.S. in origin—must always be taken into account when attempting to apply them outside of that historical time and place (Brummer & Hudson, 2015). A certain “boundedness” can occur when work is so indelibly shaped by its context. However, that many of the classic works are still being read by graduate students—and even undergraduate students— speaks to their lasting influence.


Some parts of this work were previously published and are reprinted by permission, including “Foreign Policy Analysis Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” (with Christopher Vore; Mershon International Studies Review, 39(Suppl. 2), 1995, 209–239), and “Foreign Policy Decision-Making: A Touchstone for International Relations Theory in the Twenty-first Century,” in Richard C. Snyder, H. W. Bruck, and Burton Sapin (Eds.), Foreign Policy Decision- Making (Revisited) (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002, 1–20); “Foreign Policy Analysis: Actor-Specific Theory and the Ground of International Relations,” Foreign Policy Analysis, 1(1), March 2005, pp. 1–30; see also a fuller treatment in Foreign Policy Analysis: Classic and Contemporary Theory (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, 2013).


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