Understanding Foreign Policy Decision-Making

By Budau, Valentin-Gabriel | Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Understanding Foreign Policy Decision-Making


Budau, Valentin-Gabriel, Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review


ALEX MINTZ, KARL DeROUEN Jr. Understanding Foreign Policy Decision-Making Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010, 208 pp.

More than a decade since the Decisionmaking on War and Peace1 was published, and after a string of books and articles meant to develop the model of foreign policy analysis from a decisionmaking perspective, Mintz and DeRouen Jr. partner to develop this manual aiming to bring together and deliver to students and scholars an ambitious framework consisting of the theories, models and concepts used in Foreign Policy Decision Making (FPDM), along with illustrative case studies and theoretical exercises. The FPDM model rests on the theories derived from political psychology and, as such, is an alternative to the rational actor model of decision making. It is by comparison and contrast with the established models and theories that Mintz and DeRouen Jr. explain and test their model.

Alex Mintz is a reputed advocate for the use of political psychology, especially the polyheuristic theory, in foreign policy analysis. Karl DeRouen Jr. is another prominent scholar of international relations with an interest in political psychology. The main purpose behind Mintz and DeRouen's endeavor is "to explain not only outcomes of decisions but also the processes that lead to decisions and the decision dynamics" (p. i).The objective of such a comprehensive undertaking is the holy grail of political scientific pursuit: "If we can understand how decisions are made, we can better understand and, perhaps more important, predict outcomes in the international arena" (p. 4).

In order to satisfy such an ambitious undertaking, Mintz and DeRouen structure their analysis on four main components: the decision environment; models of decision making; determinants of foreign policy decision making; marketing foreign policy, each to be examined as part of a self-standing chapter of the book. Furthermore, the authors employ various case studies in order to test the strengths, as well as the biases and limitations of each theoretical assertion.

In the introductory chapter, Mintz and DeRouen clarify the general subject of their inquiry: "Foreign policy decision making (FPDM) refers to the choices individuals, groups, and coalitions make that affect a nation's actions on the international stage" (p. 3). In order to understand such choices, the FPDM model takes into account psychological, environmental, international, and domestic factors that shape the way in which foreign policy decisions are made.

Here Mintz and DeRouen identify the first point of departure between FPDM and international relations (IR) theory - according to their assertions, "many international relations theories apply specifically to great powers. An FPDM approach, in contrast, can speak to issues that affect all nations" (p. 6). To further strengthen this point, throughout the book Mintz and DeRouen employ subjects for their case-studies as varied as the United States, New Zealand, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Argentina, the United Kingdom, Bolivia or Iceland.

Another point of difference between FPDM and IR theory resides with the level of analysis - whereas the IR theory operates with individual, the state, and the international system as the main units of analysis, FPDM concentrates on individual decision makers and thenrespective forms of congregation, namely groups and coalitions. Concentrating on individuals, and on groups and coalitions, respectively, is a result of the psychological approach to foreign policy analysis. …

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