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Knowing the Adversary

Knowing the Adversary: Leaders, Intelligence, and Assessment of Intentions in International Relations

Keren Yarhi-Milo
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Knowing the Adversary
    Book Description:

    States are more likely to engage in risky and destabilizing actions such as military buildups and preemptive strikes if they believe their adversaries pose a tangible threat. Yet despite the crucial importance of this issue, we don't know enough about how states and their leaders draw inferences about their adversaries' long-term intentions.Knowing the Adversarydraws on a wealth of historical archival evidence to shed new light on how world leaders and intelligence organizations actually make these assessments.

    Keren Yarhi-Milo examines three cases: Britain's assessments of Nazi Germany's intentions in the 1930s, America's assessments of the Soviet Union's intentions during the Carter administration, and the Reagan administration's assessments of Soviet intentions near the end of the Cold War. She advances a new theoretical framework-called selective attention-that emphasizes organizational dynamics, personal diplomatic interactions, and cognitive and affective factors. Yarhi-Milo finds that decision makers don't pay as much attention to those aspects of state behavior that major theories of international politics claim they do. Instead, they tend to determine the intentions of adversaries on the basis of preexisting beliefs, theories, and personal impressions. Yarhi-Milo also shows how intelligence organizations rely on very different indicators than decision makers, focusing more on changes in the military capabilities of adversaries.

    Knowing the Adversaryprovides a clearer picture of the historical validity of existing theories, and broadens our understanding of the important role that diplomacy plays in international security.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5041-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The question of how policy makers gauge their adversaries’ intentions remains fundamental to international relations theory and world affairs. Given states’ uncertainty about each other’s motives and types, and their incentives to misrepresent these factors, the task of determining another country’s foreign policy plans is extremely difficult. This is not to argue that decision makers cannot gather potentially valuable information about their adversary’s intentions. On the contrary, decision makers face information overload, with large amounts of “noise” compounded by deliberate attempts at deception. An overabundance of simultaneous signals carrying contradictory messages often leaves the decision maker unable to determine which...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Theories of Intentions and the Problem of Attention
    (pp. 14-43)

    In this study, perception of an adversary’s intentions refers to the set of beliefs held by observers in a state about its adversary’s foreign policy goals (political intentions) with regard to changing or maintaining the status quo, and to a lesser extent, about the adversary’s inclination to use military force to achieve these objectives (military intentions).¹ This study is primarily concerned with the perceptions of an adversary’s long-term intentions, since these are likely to affect a state’s own foreign policy and strategic choices.² Further, this study examines peacetime assessments of intentions between adversaries. Thus, in all the periods I analyze,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Indicators of Nazi Germany’s Intentions and the Coming of World War II, 1934–39
    (pp. 44-57)

    In hindsight, Nazi Germany’s ambitious intentions were always obvious: Hitler’s stated objectives inMein Kampfcorrelated with the horrific actions later committed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. British decision makers were clearly wrong to hold benign views of Nazi Germany, and were especially wrong in thinking that some concessions could satisfy Nazi Germany’s geopolitical appetite. Nevertheless, viewing their error as resulting from mere naїveté is anachronistic and misleading. An active debate took place during the 1930s among British decision makers and government agencies as they struggled to assess the nature and scope of Nazi Germany’s foreign policy...

  7. CHAPTER 3 British Decision Makers’ Perceptions of Nazi Germany’s Intentions
    (pp. 58-101)

    This chapter uses primary documents to examine the analytic lenses that several key British decision makers used to evaluate Nazi Germany’s intentions between 1934 and 1939.

    This chapter analyzes the views of the key decision makers most responsible for the formulation of Britain’s foreign policy toward Germany during this time. The views expressed by two of the three British prime ministers in the period under study receive less attention: neither James Ramsay MacDonald (June 1929–June 1935) nor Stanley Baldwin (June 1935–May 1937) was greatly involved in issues of foreign policy. Starting in 1933, MacDonald’s health significantly declined. Baldwin...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The British Intelligence Community’s Assessments of Nazi Germany’s Intentions
    (pp. 102-113)

    This chapter reviews assessments of the British intelligence community about the nature and scope of Germany’s foreign policy plans along with its perceptions of Germany’s willingness to use military force. The purpose here is to track the evolution in the stated beliefs of Britain’s intelligence community about Germany’s intentions and evaluate how well the predictions of the theses set forth in chapter 2 fit the evolution in perceived intentions. This chapter also describes the reasoning behind the intelligence community’s conclusions. As we will see, the evolution of the British intelligence community’s collective assessments is most consistent with the predictions of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Carter Era and the Collapse of Détente, 1977–80
    (pp. 114-125)

    President Carter began his time in office with great optimism about the USSR and was committed to improving the US-Soviet relationship. By the end of his tenure, however, Carter’s perceptions of the USSR had changed and his policies emphasized competition over cooperation. In his last year as president, Carter failed to meet with Soviet leaders, increased the defense budget, and withdrew the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) II Treaty from Senate consideration. He articulated the Carter Doctrine, which identified the Persian Gulf as an area of vital national interest, and pledged the United States to use all means necessary to...

  10. CHAPTER 6 US Decision Maker’s Perceptions of Soviet Intentions: THE COLLAPSE OF DÉTENTE
    (pp. 126-157)

    This chapter examines the beliefs of President Carter and his two main foreign policy advisers—Brzezinski and Vance. The reasons for focusing on the president’s view are obvious: Carter had a hands-on leadership style and devised the structure of his administration so that it could provide him with a range of options. Brzezinski and Vance were the “most heavily involved individuals and closest advisors to the president in the area of foreign affairs.”¹ Brzezinski represented Carter’s bold side and a possibly imminent call to action, whereas Vance balanced those tendencies with a restrained and traditional approach.²

    What indicators did Carter...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The US Intelligence Community’s Assessments of Soviet Intentions: THE COLLAPSE OF DÉTENTE
    (pp. 158-177)

    This chapter examines NIEs produced on the Soviet Union between 1977 and 1980 to evaluate the degree to which history confirms the predictions of the selective attention’s organizational expertise hypothesis, and also to test the three competing theses—the capabilities, strategic military doctrine, and behavior theses. I use the declassified NIEs on the Soviet Union.

    The NIEs on the Soviet Union that I review in this chapter are a series of documents produced in coordination by US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, the DIA, the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence organization of the Department of State (the INR), the...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Indicators of Soviet Intentions and the End of the Cold War, 1985–88
    (pp. 178-191)

    With the collapse of détente, Soviet-US relations entered a period of flux that would last through the 1980s. Reagan came into office in 1981 after a presidential campaign that expressed alarm over a “window of vulnerability” that endangered US national security. Such a concern motivated his administration’s thinking for several years until its refutation by the Scowcroft Commission’s “sobering” report in 1983. Even so, an emerging pillar of Reagan’s national security strategy—the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—aimed at supplying the United States with a ballistic missile defense shield. Critics alleged that this initiative would undermine the stability of mutual...

  13. CHAPTER 9 US Decision Makers’ Perceptions of Soviet Intentions: THE END OF THE COLD WAR
    (pp. 192-223)

    During his first term in office, Reagan believed that Soviet intentions posed an existential threat to the United States. He referred to the USSR as an “evil empire.” Reagan’s views, however, changed dramatically during his second administration (1985–88). Following the Moscow summit of May 1988, Reagan asserted that his speech five years earlier was no longer relevant and his comment about an evil empire belonged to “another time, another era.”¹ When asked if he could declare the Cold War over, the president responded, “I think right now, of course.”²

    This chapter addresses how Reagan and his top advisers—especially...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The US Intelligence Community’s Assessments of Soviet Intentions: THE END OF THE COLD WAR
    (pp. 224-240)

    During the first half of the 1980s, the dominant US view was that the USSR was an expansionist power, unlikely to use military force against the United States or its allies, but inclined to use military force in other regions. The hawkish perspective on the USSR held by key officials within the Reagan administration and Casey certainly played a critical role in the view of Soviet intentions as especially hostile. The alarming estimates of the early 1980s were in part prompted by Soviet interventionism in the third world during the late 1970s and the continuing Soviet military buildup. They may...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Summary and Implications
    (pp. 241-254)

    This chapter summarizes the book’s theoretical argument and findings, discusses the book’s implications for international relations theory, offers an agenda for further research, and ends with a look at the study’s relevance for contemporary policy issues.

    This book has systematically tested four theses about perceived intentions. The selective attention thesis that I develop draws on insights from psychology and organizational theory, and is pitted against three alternative theses. For each of the three historical episodes analyzed, the book subjected thousands of primary documents to three types of tests: a covariance test examining the fit between thesis predictions and changes in...

  16. Appendix: Summary of Hypotheses
    (pp. 255-258)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 259-344)
  18. Index
    (pp. 345-356)