DB 4

Answer this question based on the reading below

What if Kahneman is right, and we only do rationality with effort? What does that mean for the future of international relations?

Reading: In 2002, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Daniel Kahneman, pictured here. Kahneman is a psychologist. This made the award of the highest of all economic awards rather surprising and kind of brave. The Nobel Committee said Kahneman, with his deceased colleague, Amos Tversky, had done more than any two people to upset capitalist economics since Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. They had shown that the towering heights of economic theory based on rationality, on supply and demand, cost and price, it’s all fundamentally misleading. The problem is much of the time people don’t think that way.

Kahneman, a psychologist, speaks directly to us, the students of international relations as well. He showed the entire system of calculating interests, value maximizing, decision making, it’s all rather optimistic. We don’t do that. Instead, we tend to rush our judgments based not on the best information and logic, but on our predispositions. We tend to fit the new to match the old.

Be sure people can do a better job But Kahneman notes they have to try really hard. Above all, they have to slow down. They have to allow others with radically different views to join the discussion. They have to welcome new information, And they had to carefully weigh the options. In international relations, we call this formal rationality, or the rational actor model. Formal rationality is hard to do, but it is our standard for comparison. Once you have a doubt, then the foibles of weak judgment, that all starts to stand out a lot more clearly.

In this module, we will leave the international system behind. Instead of stressing the overall perspective, trying to see the forest, we’re going to look at the trees. This means pushing people into the foreground. How do we how do we as humans actually make decisions? Even the strongest systemic theories acknowledge human agency, the ability of individuals to act in very surprising ways. Systemic theories respond that nothing much can come of those little individual mutinies, Not in the long -un, because systemic forces rule. But we all know that a lot can happen in the short-run, A lot can happen to us, like the decision to undertake major negotiations or to go to war. Decision-making theory is a bridge between the international system and what people actually do. It can be applied to anything where people are involved. In this module, we will apply decision making theory to illuminate two major subfields of IR, diplomacy and international organization, and armed conflict and conflict resolution. As you’ll see, both of these subfields witness both systemic and decision-making forces at work. The module closes, as usual, with two major case studies, two major examples, the July 1914 crisis and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Examples of the worst and the best of decision-making.

Kahneman is an interesting man. He often comes off in interviews like your sad uncle. Having devoted a long and successful career to the weaknesses of human decision-making, he is not an optimist. It’s rare that things go right by themselves, he says. Something exceptional has to push us in that direction. So let’s pay attention to the booby-traps that we set for ourselves, and let’s look at how we get around them.


It certainly appears Kahneman is correct that it takes effort and practice for people to even recognize their biases. For international relations, this truth is paramount. Western culture has historically valued the idea of rational-legal forms of government and international relations, however, we dont always achieve these aspirations. The Cuban missile crises is a good example of how irrational thinking only narrowly avoided disaster. The Bernstein article points out a lot of intellectual shortcomings Kennedy and his team experienced when trying to calculate the cause and response of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. some of the most important issues were treated inadequately or virtually ignored he writes and he explains causes like US ICBMS in Turkey and US military planning a possible invasion of Cuba he also notes how some of the team knew about ongoing raids being conducted in the country at that time. They instead focused on issues like solving the Berlin problem and probably a challenge to US credibility as the Soviets motivating issues. This shows the presence of confirmation biases and screening influencing the teams decision making. Luckily, moves like the blockade provided more time for dialogue to prevent an actual nuclear strike. I thought this showed the benefits of systemic factors taking over in a crisis to minimize the chance for the worst consequences happening. Over the long term, systems and institutions will hopefully step into future crises like that to prevent disaster. However, with the rise of nationalist and populist movements all of the world, there is growing distrust of these institutions and a reluctance to operate within them. This could very well lead to more frequent conflicts or other violence. It will take time to see if these shifts subside.

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