International Relations-PSC 201
THE ROLE OF DECISION MAKING IN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
What is Decision Making?
Decision making implies a conscious choice of one form of behavior alternative. Decisions are implied in
policy making and in implementation of policy strategies. Decision making determines a course of action
which has important consequences.
While the most important decisions are referred to leaderships at the top, various cadres of decision makers
are needed in all institutional structures. In IR, decisions are made concerning foreign policies which
formulate directions for socio-economic activities and defense needs of individual states.
Types of IR Decisions
Programmatic decisions: these are taken after careful deliberation of stated goals and consideration of
Crisis decisions: these are decisions taken in times of grave threat for which there has been no preplanning,
with little luxury of time crisis decisions can require ad hoc responses.
Tactical decisions: these decisions are derived from programmatic decisions. Tactical decisions are subject to
revision, revaluation and reversal depending on outcomes.
Prominent Approaches to Decision Making
Decisions taken in IR can be located within methodological and historical frameworks. A traditional or
historical approach to decision making is essentially descriptive. It focuses on the external behavior of states
based on its particular historical, social, geographic imperatives.
The traditional approach assumes that decisions are made by designated decision makers, and that the
decision making process itself influences decision making alternatives.
The scientific approach seeks to identify coherent variables which effect the decision making process. The
scientific approach has identified five crucial variables in this regard:
Idiosyncratic variables: focus on individual personality characteristics of decision makers (greatest
importance in crisis decisions where little planning and advice can be accommodated).
Role variables: focus on defined expectations of decision makers and opinion makers (diplomats,
politicians, and media) who influence their output. Roles are most important in programmatic
Bureaucratic variables: focus on processes and structures of government institutions and how they
influence foreign policy.
National variables: geographic location, size, natural resources, population characteristic of
individual nations also influence decisions. For example, a strategically located nation must be
assertive itself or ensure protection of a bigger power; an insular state tends to avoid alliances; and
populist states tend to be expansionist.
Systematic variables: external variables like the prevailing world order, international regulatory
frameworks, power balances are also considered vital in terms of foreign policy.
Political parties, pressure groups, public opinion are recognized to influence decision making processes
much more in democratic than authoritarian states.
International Relations-PSC 201
Alternatives: other available options
Strategy: on a carefully thought plan
Framework: structure, outline or context
Vital: important or crucial
Students are advised to read the following chapters to develop a better understanding of the various
principals highlighted in this hand-out:
Chapter 8 in `"A Study of International Relations" by Dr. Sultan Khan
In addition to reading from the textbook, please visit the following web-pages for this lecture, which
provide useful and interesting information:
Decision making: Individual and Group Influences on Foreign Policy
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