Minds at War: Nuclear Reality and the Inner Conflicts of Defense Policymakers

Minds at War: Nuclear Reality and the Inner Conflicts of Defense Policymakers

Minds at War: Nuclear Reality and the Inner Conflicts of Defense Policymakers

Minds at War: Nuclear Reality and the Inner Conflicts of Defense Policymakers

Excerpt

Before I began studying Soviet-American security issues, I spent more than a decade practicing psychotherapy. This experience has, of course, conditioned my approach to the problems of international security. It may be valuable for me to describe, in advance, how my orientation as a psychologist makes the present study somewhat different from a traditional analysis of policymaking.

This study is not primarily a review of historical events, nor is it a critical evaluation of policies, leading up to an alternative proposal. Instead, it focuses on the psychological processes involved in making defense policy. More specifically, it focuses on what happens as policymakers attempt to cope with the profound changes in international relations engendered by nuclear weapons—that is, nuclear reality.

The distinction between this kind of analysis and a more traditional critical analysis is particularly apparent in the approach to inconsistencies in the statements of policymakers—something I will be paying particular attention to. A traditional perspective tends to regard inconsistent statements as arising from either disingenuity or a lack of intelligence. In the discourse of policy criticism, the way to undermine an opponent's position is to demonstrate how it is inconsistent. However, from a psychological perspective, inconsistent statements may tell us something important about the difficulties a policymaker is having in coping. If at one moment a policymaker recognizes fundamental features of reality and at another moment seems to ignore or deny them, this suggests a significant psychological conflict. Such conflicts and the fragmented behavior they produce can interfere with effective adaptation.

A criticism people often level at clinical psychologists is that they tend to focus on the negative. In this study I must plead guilty to this . . .

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