MA International Relations
Module The Making of American Foreign Policy – M14045 (30 Credits)
Is Foreign Policy – Making RAtional?
Albert Einstein once said that “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift”. This quotation by one of the most famous physicists,surprising in that a scientist would be expected to extol rationality, summarizes very well the debate within social sciences between those who want to believe that it is achievable and others who deny this capacity to Man. In the field of International Relations, the question has never been so accurate than regarding foreign policy. Indeed, discussing if foreign policy making is rational or notleads to other questions not less important such as the predictability of State actions.
It is understood by rational foreign policy that foreign policy is an action-reaction process between two or more actors and as a knock-on effect leads to a constant readjustment of the policies carried on. Through the simplifying assumption of rationality, the decision-maker follows a specified set or rules inmaking and to arrive at the best decision to maximise his goal (Verba, 1961:106). These rules or steps are in the following order: the goals are clearly stated and ranked in order of preference; all options are considered; the consequences of each option are assessed; a value-maximising choice is made (Hastedt, 2006:248). The state is therefore considered as unitary for it responds with onevoice to international affairs, by calculating the costs and benefits as well as the means and the ends.
It could be argued that foreign policy making is rational as long as it stays in the framework in which it was conceived at the very beginning. But, considering that the world is in constant motion, rationality generates several questions: Until what extent can humans be rational?; Isforeign policy making more of a gamble than cold calculation?; How accurately can an actor predict the behaviour or reaction of another state in order to calculate the cost and benefits at best? In a nutshell, is foreign policy-making rational? These questions will be dealt with by dwelling on American foreign policy-making examples given that the US has had the most active foreign policy ofcontemporary history as the world hegemon. It will be argued that foreign policy-making cannot be deemed rational but rather rationalised. This can be explained by the nature of the system in which foreign policy is made as well as the very nature of the actors making it.
Rational Foreign Policy-Making Undermined By The System.
The means-ends rational theory is undermined by the fact that thedifferentiation between means and ends is blurred because of the very nature of the American foreign policy-making system. Diverse forces try to influence this process, amongst them the interest groups which exert strong pressures on the legislative and the executive to protect and promote their interests. This explains the divergent perception of the national interest between the actors shaping foreignpolicy. Thus, frequent clashes occur between the executive, the legislative and interest groups. In such a case, decision-makers, expected to take rational decisions, sometimes cannot do so and pursue foreign policies contrary to their own rational judgement. A very controversial article written by Mearsheimer and Walt argues that the support provided to Israel by the US is mainly the result of theJewish Lobby, even when it is not justified according to American interests. The last proof of this unconditional support is the US vetoing the United Nations resolution condemning Israel's attacks on Palestine and calling for a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Palestinian territories. Now, one would expect, on rational calculations, that the US would privilege appeasement among Arabs,...
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