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Painful Choices

Painful Choices: A Theory of Foreign Policy Change

David A. Welch
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Painful Choices
    Book Description:

    Under what conditions should we expect states to do things radically differently all of a sudden? In this book, David Welch seeks to answer this question, constructing a theory of foreign policy change inspired by organization theory, cognitive and motivational psychology, and prospect theory. He then "test drives" the theory in a series of comparative case studies in the security and trade domains: Argentina's decision to go to war over the Falklands/Malvinas vs. Japan's endless patience with diplomacy in its conflict with Russia over the Northern Territories; America's decision to commit large-scale military force to Vietnam vs. its ultimate decision to withdraw; and Canada's two abortive flirtations with free trade with the United States in 1911 and 1948 vs. its embrace of free trade in the late 1980s.

    Painful Choiceshas three main objectives: to determine whether the general theory project in the field of international relations can be redeemed, given disappointment with previous attempts; to reflect on what this reveals about the possibilities and limits of general theory; and to inform policy. Welch argues that earlier efforts at general theory erred by aiming to explain statebehavior, which is an intractable problem. Instead, since inertia is the default expectation in international politics, all we need do is to explainchangesin behavior.Painful Choicesshows that this is a tractable problem with clear implications for intelligence analysts and negotiators.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4074-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-9)

    During the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, Republican candidate George W. Bush criticized the Clinton administration for overextending American commitments, failing to focus on key American interests, and burdening the U.S. military with tasks unrelated to its core mission. A president should authorize the use of military force, Bush insisted in the first of two presidential debates with Democratic candidate Al Gore, only “if it’s in our vital national interests,” when there is “a clear understanding as to what the mission would be,” when the United States is “prepared and trained to . . . win,” and when there is a...

    (pp. 10-29)

    Important developments in international politics tend to catch us by surprise. The standard litany of examples is familiar. No one thought that the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 would lead to a general European war within five weeks. No one predicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. No one forecast the end of the Cold War. No one predicted Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Why is anticipating state behavior so difficult?

    Part of the answer lies with the nature of the subject matter, and part lies with how we typically try to make sense of it....

    (pp. 30-71)

    If the behavior of states changes so often and so radically that events will constantly overtake our attempts to anticipate them, or if the behavior of states changes capriciously, then a theory of foreign policy change will be unworkable. We may be able to finesse the multiple inputs problem, but we cannot get by without having some timely handle on how states match means to ends. Put another way, we can tolerate indeterminacy in goals, but we cannot tolerate indeterminacy both in goals and in calculations. There must be reliable patterns in how states match means to ends for us...

    (pp. 72-116)

    Nature rarely blesses students of international politics with good-quality experimental controls, but a notable exception—relatively speaking—may be found in the contrast between Argentina’s attempt to resolve by force of arms its longstanding territorial dispute with Britain over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands,¹ and Japan’s reluctance to do anything but lobby to resolve its not-quite-so-longstanding territorial dispute with the Soviet Union (and its successor state, Russia) over what the Japanese call the “Northern Territories” and what the Russians call the “Southern Kurils.”² The first was an unambiguously dramatic change in policy—a sudden shift from pure diplomacy to coercive diplomacy, as...

    (pp. 117-167)

    In the previous chapter, I attempted to assess the performance of the theory in a comparison of two independent cases. While the comparison was not a wholly static one—it was necessary to delve into the histories of both, if briefly, to understand the events, or lack of events, at crucial moments—I did not dwell on longitudinal endogeneities. How well does the theory work in the security domain within a single case exhibiting more than one dramatic policy change? Do path dependencies play a role? If so, what can we learn from them?

    In this chapter, I explore these...

    (pp. 168-215)

    Intuition tells us that significant foreign policy changes are more likely to catch us by surprise when they concern “high-politics” issues than when they concern “low-politics” issues. High politics—military security, alliance formation, sovereignty, territoriality, prestige—is a largely competitive realm in which advantages sometimes accrue to states that manage to avoid telegraphing their intentions. In contrast, low politics—trade, investment, the environment, law, culture, health, sports—is a realm in which states occasionally have harmonious interests, and very often have interests that they can realize only cooperatively. In such circumstances, surprise can be counterproductive. Harmony and cooperation are best...

  11. Chapter 6 CONCLUSION
    (pp. 216-232)

    In the space remaining, I would like to assess the performance of the theory as a whole, reflect upon its strengths and weaknesses, comment on its implications for international relations theory more broadly, and briefly discuss some of its practical implications for policy makers. In so doing, I will, of course, provide additional confirmation for Kenneth Pollack’s eminently sensible claim that no international relations theory explains everything. Indeed, I am unaware of any international relations theory that explains even half of what goes on in the world, which may simply lead to the conclusion that there are no good academic...

    (pp. 233-264)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 265-275)