The 1970s, the decade of détente, began with hope for arms control, but ended with unfortunate failure. Besides the Vietnam War, no question consistently polarized presidential advisors (and American society) more than how to manage the U.S.-Soviet competition while maintaining U.S. security interests. Despite leading to the signing of two agreements in seven years, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) only slowed growth in nuclear arms rather than ending their production. By the end of the decade relations between the superpowers had chilled considerably.
The substance of this book explains the more personal and bureaucratic war inside the Nixon and Carter administrations that mirrored the Cold War competition. Foreign policy advisors with different goals and beliefs battled to dominate the president's foreign policy agenda. This book argues that policy making on SALT (or any issue) cannot be separated from the players of the power game. Here foreign policy advisors prove to be policy advocates who are able to manipulate, bargain, and persuade in their own right.
Underlying the gamesmanship approach to foreign policy decision making is my curiosity about what makes people tick. Seminars in U.S. foreign policy introduced me to classics in decision-making theory such as Graham Allison's Essence of Decision and Irving Janis's Groupthink that address this question. What began as a seminar paper focusing on the competition among President Jimmy Carter's foreign policy advisors during the 1979 discovery of a Soviet brigade in Cuba became a comparative study of advisory systems in two administrations. Because the decision-making literature, however, did not explain satisfactorily what would motivate advisors to engage in power games, I searched for a more thorough explanation. The Summer Institute in Political Psychology at Ohio State University provided some new ways to think about how and why individuals influence foreign policy decision making. From these roots Games Advisors Play grew.
This work was written with the student of U.S. foreign policy, comparative foreign policy, the presidency, and political psychology in mind. This interdisciplinary study provides some new tools to better explain political phenomenon in general, and the foreign policy advisory process specifically.